It’s not easy working in a piece of living history.
Ask Colin Astbury, owner of the Blackpool garage which has heritage experts skidding to a halt and reaching for the superlatives.
Or rather don’t ask Colin. The Savoy Garage on King George Avenue, North Shore, may be around 100 years old but it is a working garage.
The cavernous confines contain a small army of mechanics rather than the cars of the wealthy guests of the near-neighbouring Savoy Hydro Hotel of old who used to park there.
Colin’s cracking on with all the winter checks, tyre changes, MoTs and preparation work required by customers at this time of year ... while passersby and motoring pilgrims pull up outside and ask if they an have a look round.
Mechanics work around and factor in the original designs which make the building so interesting to the rest of us - the fact it’s on two levels, and still has its original lift and turntable. But the new grade two listing means owners can’t make changes without jumping through planning hoops and over the hurdles associated with preservation.
Colin doesn’t want to discuss the listing but admits the first he knew of it was when some “chaps with clipboards turned up” unannounced.
Colin was told it had been built in the Thirties when he took it on. That’s the period which produced the beautiful Art Deco garage, Clover Leaf on Squires Gate Lane, which is also listed. It is rented out as a working garage.
Echoes of the old Belle Vue garage on Whitegate Drive remain in the design of the Sainsbury’s store on the site - another nod at the 1930s.
Carl Carrington, Blackpool’s Council’s heritage chief, learned the Savoy was one of the first covered car parks in the country when built between 1914 and 1915 - in the early years of motor production.
He set about preserving it. “Blackpool was one of the first resorts to attract large numbers of private cars which required these type of facilities.
“It might fly in the face of the town being a working class resort but there were plenty of people who did have cars in the early 20th century and did have money. It is great English Heritage is highlighting this and demonstrating to the rest of the country that we have strengths within our heritage.
“The garage still has its original turntable, and I don’t think there is anywhere else in the country in the same condition.”
It’s not the only motoring feature making heritage experts hot under the collar.
Carl adds: “Talbot Road multi-storey car park is also an important element of Blackpool’s motoring heritage.
“We believe it is the earliest example of a public multi-storey car park in the country.”
English Heritage motoring expert John Minnis, who features the Savoy garage in the new book Carscapes, co-written with Kathryn Morrison, agrees.
“Talbot Road car park was another first for Blackpool,” he adds. “There’s another early car park behind the Winter Gardens - quite a rudimentary structure, not a thing of beauty, but great interest to specialists.
“But what’s so interesting about the Savoy garage is it’s a really good example of an early hotel garage. Very few survive from the early 1900s - although others will have existed locally.
“Many will have been demolished to make way for more bedrooms or accommodate surface parking. Back then cars had to be covered because most cars were open until the 1920s and were coach painted so tended to deteriorate quickly if left outside. Particularly in the bracing conditions of Blackpool.”
John’s book Carscapes (published by Yale University Press) coincides with the announcement of the Savoy’s inclusion - along with the space travel inspired 1920s Forton Tower on the M6 - in 13 new listings by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of English Heritage. All show how England’s landscape and architecture were re-engineered to accommodate cars.
John adds: “People tend to talk of trains, or trams, and car parks tend to pass them by. But Talbot Road car park was a real pioneer, a municipal multi storey. It has lost much of its original features, the friezes obliterated by cladding, and hasn’t really been cherished. It’s a shame. Particularly if you look at the response to the listing of Forton Tower - the reaction to that has been extraordinary.
“Many of these designs touch something in people’s lives. Particularly from the Sixties. There is a real recognition that some very special building went on at that time - much of it lost as swathes of town centres and cities have been demolished. There was a spirit of optimism.”
Both hotel and garage are believed to have been designed by TG Lumb, Son & Walton of Blackpool. Blackpool was also the birthplace of William Lyons’ Jaguar empire and TVR.