Save The Botanic Gardens Garage

Botanic Gardens Garage - History & Context
Researched by Sam Maddra

The building comprises three different sections, all designed by David Valentine Wyllie for Mrs Annie K Kennedy (nee Wilson) between 1896 and 1911. David Valentine Wyllie was a prolific architect who designed both industrial and domestic buildings all over Glasgow, including a number of others in the West End, including terraced villas on Lilybank Gardens in 1892/93, and a tenement on Wilton Street in 1895 (Glasgow City Archives [GCA]).

The first part of what was to become the Botanic Garage building complex, built c.1896, was a 2-storey construction, described as a warehouse / store at the end of Vinicombe Lane, behind what was then Hillhead Academy.
In 1903 Wyllie designed and built a 5-storey tenement on Vinicombe Street for Annie Kennedy (GCA 1/9732), followed by another 5-storey tenement, with retail units on the ground floor in 1905 (GCA 2/635).
In 1906 Kennedy applied for an ‘Extension to Motor Garage/warehouse…’ - this is the second phase of the building, which backs onto their recently completed tenement.
It is a two-storey building – with a basement and ground floor. 

The pedestrian entrance was down an alley to the right hand side of the old school building.  Additional toilets and a cloakroom were added to the earlier building at this time. This is the first reference to the fact that the building is purpose built as a Motor Garage – ‘The Botanic Motor Garage’ – as early as 1906. (GCA 2/1526).
The third part of the existing garage; the section with the tiled frontage, replaced the Hillhead Academy building, and was designed in 1911 (GCA 19/11/273). Hume noted ‘The present two storey, five bay front building, which has large windows, and is finished in green and white glazed tiles, was added in 1911, D.V.Wyllie, architect (£3,750)’ (Hume, 158)

Gordon Urquhart stated 'The oldest custom-built motorcar garage in the West End is the Botanic Gardens garage in Vinicombe Street. It is also the most interesting architecturally. Built c.1912 by architect David V Wylie, the garage has a steel skeleton, a front facade of green and white faience (blocks of glazed terracotta), and a side elevation with large expanses of glazing.  The upper level [...] was reached by a ramp in the pend of the adjacent tenement. This top floor storage area was spanned by barrel-vaulted steel trusses, with one section being glazed’ (Urquhart, 105).  Hume also stated ‘The steel roof trusses are of unusual design’ (Hume, 158).

Historical context – The earliest surviving multi storey car park?

Photographic evidence shows that the purpose built Botanic Gardens Motor Garage was used at least in part for the storage of cars. Could this make it the earliest multi-level car park?

Gordon Urquhart remarked in his book Along Great Western Road:

By the turn of the Twentieth Century ... the number of car-owners among wealthy Glaswegians grew steadily. Good use was made of vacant ground in the early decades of the twentieth century to meet the growing demand for garages and lock-ups. ... [E]nterprising companies established storage garages either in former livery stables or, more rarely, in new-build premises.
    (Urquhart, Stenlake, 2000, p.104-05) 

While the real expansion in services for motorists came after the war in 1918, 1912 was clearly a significant time in Glasgow’s motoring history as the Great Scottish Motor Show was held in the Industrial Hall, Kelvingrove in January.

As on-street parking was prohibited the motor garages ‘primarily provided storage space for cars belonging to local residents.’  After the Second World War, ‘however, regulations governing on-street parking were relaxed’ and other large storage garages fell into decline. [Urquhart, 185]

Eva Branscome of the Twentieth Century Society has been conducting research into the historical context of the Botanic Gardens Garage, and we have her to thank for the following information.

There is not much existing research published on the new architectural building forms that developed alongside the automobile industry and we have gone to great lengths to establish a context for the Botanic Garden Garage. This appears to be the earliest listed multi-storey car park in either Scotland or England.

We have only been able to find four other listed multi-car parking garages that are not part of private estates, all of which were built later than the Botanics.

In Scotland there is no other known comparable example still in existence.  The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England put together a report in 1998 on Road Transport Buildings in support of English Heritage’s listing programme. The RCHME report is unaware of the Botanic Gardens Garage when it states:

“The first public multi-storey car parks were built on the Continent and in the USA in the mid 1920s, and in 1928 RIBA gave publicity to this new building type in England by announcing a competition to design a parking garage for a theatre site in London."

The Rothbury Motor Garage dating from 1913 is still a far less sophisticated building and is single storey.  The Botanic Gardens Garage was built in 1912 and significantly predates this first wave of car parks, but already had a ramped access to the upper storey.

This has confirmed our initial assessment that the building is indeed exceptionally rare if not unique within a UK-wide context.  In the light of the rarity of this building we are considering requesting that Historic Scotland assess this building for a possible upgrading to Category A.’ (Branscome, 2007)

The earliest known multi-story car park in the US was built for the Hotel La Salle in Chicago, IL., in 1918 and was designed by Holabird and Roche. It was demolished in 2005 (Online Preservation, Car Culture, Mary Beth Klatt, Oct. 21, 2005, Link)

Clearly further research needs to be done into the Botanic Gardens Garage’s historical significance, not just in Glasgow, but also in a worldwide context.


An additional point of interest arose out of the Public Meeting. Annie Kennedy’s grandson was in attendance, and he confirmed the research to date that this was indeed a custom-built two storey garage, and that his family ran the company.  A full transcript of an interview with him can be seen here.