21 February 2007

Gunner’s Great Garages 2: Windy City Wig Wam

Upon seeing car collector Lou Natenshon’s garage, we couldn’t help but think about the old adage, “Is it the man who makes the clothes or the clothes that make the man?” Only in Natenshon's case, the question becomes, “Is it the garage that makes the cars or the cars that make the garage?”

Natenshon resides near Chicago, where vehicle-storage space is at a premium. If you don’t understand what we mean, check out the rates for keeping your family sedan in a downtown Chicago parking garage for a few hours: $10–$15 an hour!

Because Natenshon keeps approximately six or seven vehicles in the long garage adjacent to the back of his house, you can tell that his “old-car building” is pretty large by Chicago region standards. However, it is the type of cars he stores in the structure that makes this a really “special” garage.

When we visited Natenshon, the lineup of foreign jobs inside the big, wood-framed structure included a red 1953 Sunbeam Alpine cabriolet, a red 1957 Porsche Speedster, a silver 1950 Simca 8 Sport convertible, a yellow Porsche 356 coupe, a creamy yellow 1952 Jaguar XK 120 roadster (with wide whitewall tires) and an Israeli-built 1963 Sabra GT with deep red paint. He also has a white, made-in-the-USA Cunningham C3 competition car with twin blue racing stripes. A diminutive 1956 Renault 4CV was squeezed in along the garage’s rear wall and several wooden boats were suspended from the ceiling over the Renault. (Talk about efficient space utilization!)

According to Natenshon, his classic-car storage facility started out as a typical two-stall garage like you’re likely to find behind many older homes in residential areas throughout the States. As Natenshon added cars to his collection, he knew he had to add garage space. The building was first two-thirds as big as it is today, but that wasn’t enough. When he ran out of space again, he added yet another stall.

As we hinted, Natenshon’s garage isn’t overly fancy. It doesn’t have a floor you can eat off of or an automobilia collection lining the walls. There is no old-fashioned gas pump in sight and no light-up traffic light adds to the atmosphere. It also isn’t a place to work on cars (other than maybe jump-starting them). It’s really just strictly a place to store multiple vehicles. Really special vehicles, that is!

While Natenshon’s “space” seems rather plain in aspects other than roominess, it reflects a number of important points that you’ll want to remember for the day you plan your own garage. Probably the most important lesson is that a long garage is a great way to store a lot of cars in a minimum of space as long as it has doors almost entirely along one side.

When you can drive cars in the side of a structure and park them side by side in single-car-length spaces (like Natenshon can), you can then use nearly every square inch of the building’s interior space for vehicle storage. On the other hand, if you have a rectangular garage with doors on the end, you have to plan extra room inside for maneuvering the vehicles into their parking spaces. In some cases, you may even have more floor space and less storage room.

A long garage with doors along one side has advantages in any location, but works particularly well behind large older homes in an urban setting. Such homes generally have small, shallow backyards that won’t accommodate deep buildings. That’s why a long, narrow garage such as Natenshon’s works much better.

Natenshon’s garage isn’t heated, but he sees this as an advantage, since he is currently storing the wood boat in it and plans to add a 1938 Pontiac woodie after the car is restored. According to Natenshon, a heating system in a building dries wood paneling and opens the seams of wood boats and woodies. “So I have a good, built-in excuse to brag to people that my building isn’t heated,” he laughed.

Natenshon was an architect by trade, and he did an excellent job decorating the outside of his garage to go with the stately old home that he lives in. The bottom part of the structure has clean white siding. It has a gray tiled roof and twin dormers with windows. There are three large overhead doors along the side of the building that can be raised for entry and lowered for weather protection and security.

Narrow Y-shaped pillars support the roof and allow enough room for jockeying vehicles around them if necessary. The overhead doors are large enough to admit two or three cars to each “stall” inside the building. And in “party” situations, all three doors can be raised at once to show off the collection.

Lou Natenshon’s car building definitely qualifies for exposure in our new series “Gunner’s Great Garages,” as selected by automotive journalist and restorer John “Gunner” Gunnell. If you’d like to share your garage with fellow hobbyists, send photos and info. to: kkazarian@hagerty.com or: Hagerty, Attn: K. Kazarian, 141 River's Edge Dr., Traverse City, MI 49684.

John "Gunner" Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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