First Avenue Parking opened at 715 W. First Ave. in January 1957 as the first location with the patented Parkmaster system that used a massive elevator, which had a turntable inside to place cars on concrete shelves in a five-story parking garage. General Machinery Co., of Spokane, fabricated the machine which was designed by William J. Porter.
Ads for the garage touted the indoor weather protection where automation guaranteed no damage to your car. The company had incorporated in 1953.
Parkmaster was a few years behind the Pigeon Hole Parking automated parking garage that opened around 1950. That mechanism, invented by brothers Leo and Vaughn Sanders who had been inspired by the mechanical automation of the timber and milling industry, hydraulically lifted cars and placed them on open-air skeletal steel frames. The brothers claimed that spaces in a concrete garage would cost $1,200 each versus only $300 for a Pigeon Hole frame.
The first Pigeon Hole parking lot was at 22 N. Madison St. and was operated by the Fox Theater around the block. Pictures and stories of the mechanical parking garage had appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. The Sanders brothers were quickly taking orders for units heading to Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York City and Chicago. They even fielded inquiries from Europe and South America.
Spokane would eventually have four Pigeon Hole Parking machines around the city. After the initial surge of interest, the Sanders’ business began to slow in the 1960s. Breakdowns in the machinery could trap cars for hours or days.
Robert B. Hyslop, author of the city’s architectural history “Spokane Building Blocks,” described the Parkmaster as a single tower elevator that could push cars two-deep into each slot. And he said operators rode in a cab over the cars and could step out onto the car’s roof if necessary. “My 1952 Hudson received a dent in its top from this cause and (I) never went back,” he wrote later in his 1983 book.
Though the company claimed multiple units were under construction in 1957, they filed for bankruptcy in 1959. Hyslop said the sheet metal front of the building slowly came loose, and the machine eventually failed. The site was unused until it was incorporated into the new Desert Saharan Motor Inn in 1962.