The Garage Is a Space for Innovation, Deviation and Nuns Selling Pot
Olivia Erlanger and Luis Ortega Govela’s new book “Garage” (2018) explores the legacy of the garage in American life.
Nic Seago’s studio in Highland Park, where images were produced for this book. Luis Ortega Govela, Photograph, 2017.
Garages aren’t just places to park your car or smoke a furtive joint during Thanksgiving while your parents blithely watch TV. They’re also incubators for the ideas that define the way we live now.
At least, that was the case for Steve Jobs, who allegedly co-founded Apple Computers with Steve Wozniak in the garage of his childhood home in Los Altos, California. Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, followed suit a couple of decades later, conceiving of their now-ubiquitous search engine in a friend’s rented garage in 1998.
Amazon, Disney, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Mattel and a score of other multi-million-dollar companies sprang to fruition in garages, and now, a whole book has devoted itself to exploring the architectural history and cultural legacy of the garage in American life (a project that we, here at, uh, GARAGE Magazine, heartily approve of.)
GARAGE’s cover features a traditional, white-paneled garage located in Highland Park, which one of its authors, Olivia Erlanger, refers to as “the Williamsburg of Los Angeles.” Erlanger and her co-author, Luis Ortega Govela, were introduced through a mutual friend and collaborated on an essay that became a 2016 book titled Hate Suburbia: The Conspiracy of the Garage, which naturally led to Garage.
The garage was—for all intents and purposes—invented by Frank Lloyd Wright, Erlanger and Ortega Govela told GARAGE. “It’s been an incubator for DIY culture, skate culture, hack-osphere, start-ups,” Erlanger said. “I always conceptualize the garage as the first cyborg poem; its invention was a complete shift in how people live, because houses are for people and then, suddenly, there’s a room added for a machine.”
“If you think about how the garage exists as this cultural construction, it’s always a central space for deviation in film, from American Beauty to Welcome to the Dollhouse,” added Ortega Govela.
The book features images relating to the different characters that Erlanger and Ortega Govela trace the histories of, from Disney and Apple logos to cell-phone photos of Ortega hard at work in a garage. Their favorite repurposed garages include the Sisters of the Valley’s “weed garage,” out of which a group of nuns sells cannabis product: “They sold us on the idea of using garage to build a feminist permaculture movement and get land ownership into hands of women,” Ortega Govela explained, adding, “We found something there that was very different but still outlines this strategy for survival that the garage provides.”
Another local favorite is the Blues Garage in the South L.A. neighborhood of Watts, which Franklin Bell opens up to the public weekly: “[Bell] was part of the Great Migration from the South, he was here for the Watts riots, he has had such a long history here and he’s refurbished his garage as a blues workshop for the octogenarian set, where everyone’s dancing and playing music together.”