Project Spotlight

Returning to where it all began!

Rich & Associates, as consultants to Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, is participating in the renovations and upgrades to a 1920’s era parking garage in downtown Detroit at the intersection of Cass Avenue and Lafayette. Improvements underway include exterior and interior structural repairs, façade improvements, new lighting, parking equipment and signage. Why is this interesting? Well, our founding President, Richard C. Rich, started his parking design career in the offices on the top level of this garage. The following is his story of how it all began.

“While studying at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI., a fellow classmate of mine had a job parking cars for a company called National Garages. He suggested that I do the same, and I also began working for National Garages. For 4 years I worked nights, parking cars in attendant parking lots in 5 different lots in 2 separate garages, during my last year I served as night supervisor. When I graduated from Marquette’s Engineering school, my manager suggested that I interview for a new position with the head of National Garages. I was interviewed by a gentleman named George Devlin. At that time George was considered the “guru” of parking and parking design. He offered me a job in Detroit to start a design department within the organization. I accepted the offer, moved to Detroit in to National Garages main offices on the top level of the Cass & Lafayette Garage.”

“When I moved in, I shared an office with an accountant and they moved in a drafting table for me since I was the only one starting out in the design department. After my first few weeks in Detroit they decided I should get experience parking in a valet garage. They sent me to a 5-story attendant parked garage at 9th & LaSalle in Minneapolis. I spent a few weeks in Minneapolis parking cars and getting experience in an attendant parked garage. One of the unique features of this garage was the manlift system, which I found amazing. The manlift is a continuous running belt with steps. The steps flip as they go over the top so that you can use it to go up and down. To go up and retrieve a car, you got on it on one side, and got off at the appropriate floor. After you park a car, you would enter on the other side of the shaft to go down. Right now, we are using the same system in attendant parked garages that rely on freight elevators to move cars from level to level. The manlift system is the cheapest and quickest way to get the valets in an attendant parked garage to where they need to go, rather than tying up the car elevator. To my knowledge I am the only parking consultant that has had extensive experience parking cars in the old attendant parking lots, parking cars myself and riding this manlift, which was truly an experience.”

“By the end of my first year, we needed to employ other drafting workers and expand the design department. At this point our office began to take over more of the parking floors within the garage at Cass Ave. & Lafayette. This was not a continuous level floor for our offices, it had 3 or 4 different elevations and as we started to occupy more space we had to level off and cover the floors with some wooden flooring. By the end of the first year I moved out of my shared office and in to a larger area where we could get in two drafting employees to expand the department. We moved in to a back area away from the operating division but on the same floor and back there we had some glass block windows about 5 or 6 ft off the ground. As we expanded the operation and design departments we eventually cut some additional windows in to the exterior of the building 11 stories in the air to get some additional daylight.  Mr. Devlin moved back to Detroit and took over the office that I had started in, and we created an additional 2 offices with windows, which still exist today (as seen in the recent photos).”

The original drafting room as it stands today

“With Mr. Devlin moving back in with us, we now had 3 people other than myself and the design department. We started taking on jobs in Canada along with an engineering firm in Detroit known at that time as Smith, Hincman & Grylls. As we started other projects, two of the engineers from Smith, Hincman & Grylls asked me to ask Mr. Devlin if he would consider using them for the structural part of the designs. I was taking care of the layouts with the drafting team and presented the idea to Mr. Devlin, that they had wanted to break away as they were the two Engineers working on our project from Smith, Hincman & Grylls. Mr. Devlin was not in favor of this and he advised that if I were part of it he would accept the idea of them doing the structural work. This meant that we had to take on more space in our upper floor office to accommodate for the engineering company now known as ENCO. At one point the engineering company had at least 15 people on the upper floor of the garage. I was working for National Garages full time at that point and ENCO.”

“As things proceeded, it became apparent to me that I needed to spend more time with the engineering company and leave National Garages. I did this in 1963, ENCO moved from the Cass Ave. building to a building a half block down the street which allowed us to continue to communicate with the people at National Garages. It is interesting to note after my recent drive through the garage at Cass Ave., that the garage had 30 different levels within the 10 stories of the building. I remember it being very difficult to keep adding space to the offices of garage because we had to adjust the floor elevations on the upper level. Eventually National Garages and myself parted ways and Rich & Associates was formed; the name of the engineering company was also changed from ENCO to Rich & Associates.”

“One of the interesting things from when I was still with National Garages at our office on Cass Ave., was the way I used to drive all the way to the top level, winding up the ramps to get to the level just below the office space. I used to do that sometimes with a little bit more speed then I should have. At one point (when I was still with National Garages) I had picked up a client at the airport and drove him up the ramp which he thought was a thrill ride. One of his associates came in a month later and said that he was told to ask me to drive her up the ramps the same way I had given the other gentleman a ride up, I did and we both enjoyed it!”

“As I said, National Garages was the frontrunner in self-service parking, working with George was a real pleasure and I learned a lot and was able to contribute many innovations to self-service design.”