How Did California End Up with Over 100,000,000 Parking Spaces? I Credit Gavrilo Princip


How Did California End Up with Over 100,000,000 Parking Spaces? I Credit Gavrilo Princip

Richard believes that a pair of bullets fired from a street corner in Sarajevo, a century ago, makes it so hard to find a parking space in California these days. 

Most of you likely have no idea who Gavrilo Princip was, and probably don’t care; there’s no reason you should. He’s just a ghost from long ago who irrevocably changed Europe, the modern world, and at the same time, the demographics and parking statistics for the State of California. But more about him very shortly. Here’s my take on a brief history of the 20th Century and how just about everything that has ever happened has affected parking in California. Bear with me, on this. 

Our contorted history lesson begins in the Golden State at the turn of the last Century, in 1900. California had a population then of 1,490,000, 2 percent of the entire population of the U.S., and making California the 21st most populated state, out of 45, at the time. Just for the sake of reference and comparison, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky and 17 other states, had greater populations in 1900. Along with its fairly low number of inhabitants, California was home to exactly 173 passenger vehicles. It is worth noting that, at the time of that census, the San Francisco Bay Area was home to just about half of all of the state’s residents. Los Angeles County was able boast of having a little over 170,000 residents, which, interestingly, is less than the number of people the County of Los Angeles now claims as county employees. 

At that time, San Francisco had been providing its people with over 30 years of continual trolley service and, down south, Los Angeles introduced the Pacific Electric Red Line of electric streetcars. The Red Cars were everywhere – from Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley to San Bernardino to Riverside to the Inland Empire to Long Beach to Orange County to Hollywood to Glendale/Burbank to the San Fernando Valley to Santa Monica and to the rest of the Beach Cities.

By 1910, California had grown to be the 11th most populated state (still out of 45) and had over 14,000 passenger cars sputtering and hurrying along its streets and roads.

The Shot Heard Round the World 

In 1914, a 19-year-old student, Gavrilo Princip, found himself less than five feet away from the stopped auto belonging to Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria. Princip, out of a fervent sense of nationalism, pulled a revolver out from his pocket, raised the gun and fired it into the open-air car, killing the Archduke and his wife. Princip was immediately pounced upon and arrested, Europe was very soon after plunged into the First World War, which resulted in the United States joining the conflict, the Russian Czar being overthrown, the establishment of the first Communist country, the Soviet Union, the defeat of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire (essentially Turkey), the dissolution of numerous branches of European royalty, and the creation of several independent countries, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. 

In 1919, a year after World War One ended, the United States Military assembled an 82-vehicle convoy, comprised of supplies, materiel and close to 300 officers and enlisted men, including a very young Lieutenant Colonel, Dwight Eisenhower, to depart Washington DC and make its way to the Presidio in San Francisco. They drove off in summer and it took 62 days to traverse the length and breadth of the continent; they averaged five miles per hour. 

Eisenhower’s summary report was less than enthusiastic about the deplorable and virtually unpassable conditions of the roads and the pronounced lack of preparedness for any future conflict that was demonstrated in the inefficient results, and how difficult travel to California proved to be. The following year, 1920, California became the 8th most populated state, with over 3,500,000 residents, and over 350,000 cars.

The Hardest Days 

In 1929, the world, and especially, the United States, plunged into the Great Depression. Within the first few years, the U.S. unemployment rate increased by over 600 percent, while the national industrial product dropped by half. And, just to prove that misery loves company, the Great Dust Bowl descended on the Great Plains, destroying millions and millions of acres of farmland, and driving hundreds of thousands of families westward to states out of harm’s way, states like California. To this date, one in eight Californians trace a part of their heritage to Oklahoma. By 1930, California, partially as a result of Americans escaping the ravages of economic and atmospheric hard times, moved up to the 6th most populous state, with over 5,700,000 people, and their 1,500,000 cars. 

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl continued harvesting devastation until 1940. And Americans continued their great westward migration, increasing California’s population to close to 7,000,000, with car ownership up to over 2,000,000 vehicles. The bullets from Gavrilo Princip’s gun, that had killed the Archduke and his wife in 1914, were still causing death and pain. Germany, which had lost the war it had begun as direct retaliation for his assassination, had elected Adolf Hitler as its chancellor, and had begun rearming. 

In the mid to late 30s, Germany embarked an effort to reverse its previous losses and started taking over neighboring countries. And then, in 1941, a new type of destruction was visited on the U.S. as Japan bombed the Pacific fleet in Hawaii, dragging the U.S. into the Second World War, with upcoming combat in both the Pacific and European theaters. War industries soon burgeoned and proliferated in Southern California bringing hundreds of thousands of out of state men and women to work in the arms supplies and equipment factories.

The war wound its way through fighting from island to island in Asia, and through the sands of North Africa, the hills of Italy and then, in the middle of 1944, the heart of France. The same young Lieutenant Colonel from the 1919 Transcontinental Army Convoy, Eisenhower, now the Supreme Allied Commander, led the American, French and British armies on the road to Berlin.

The End of World War II

The Soviets got there first, and in May of 1945, the Germans surrendered, followed a few months later, in August, by the Japanese. 16,000,000 GIs were now coming home. Most had never been away from homes before they were enlisted into the U.S. Armed Forces, and trained at military bases in the South and in California. Now they were home, in the bosoms of their families, and a few months later, in the unrelenting embraces of the harsh realities of winter in the Mid-West and along the Atlantic Seaboard and in old New England. 

The aromas of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and the fervor of opening presents in front of Christmas trees mingled with the late in the evening reminiscing about warm nights at armed forces garrisons and forts throughout the Land of Milk and Honey. Many former servicemen and women were thinking about taking advantage of the newly enacted GI Bill and heading out West, as Horace Greeley had once famously voiced 80 years prior, and buying into the American Dream with a touch of West Coast sunsets. 

Land and home ownership was cheap and vast swathes of tract homes were popping up everywhere. Fortuitously, for these young people taken with wanderlust, U-Haul burst onto the scene, allowing a driver in New York, for example, to rent a bright orange colored covered trailer, at $2 a day, hitch it to the back of their car, and then drive westward to California, where, once arriving at their new home, drop off the trailer at a nearby U-Haul location. 

By 1950, California had swelled to 10,677,000 people, with almost 4,000,000 cars. California was now the 2nd most populated state (out of 48), and had added over 9,000,000 people within its borders in just 50 years, and put almost 4,000,000 cars on its roads, and in its parking lots and facilities. 

Television had entered everyone’s lives in the late 40s and early 50s. The Rose Parade was a regular staple of telecasting, from Pasadena, each New Year’s Day, allowing millions and millions of Americans the opportunity to run from their cars, ankle deep in snow, to their living rooms, hands tightly clutched around mugs of steaming hot chocolate to warm up, to watch young women smiling and beaming from flowered floats and waving their sleeveless arms while alternately shielding their eyes from the blazing sun.

Coming to California Again

The first color telecast was in 1954 and U-Haul had its biggest sales day on January 2nd. It was no coincidence that the number one most viewed television show through much of the 50s was “I Love Lucy,” a show about a young couple who drove cross-country from New York City to relocate to Los Angeles, inspiring millions. 

In 1950, just three short years after World War II had ended, and the world thought that no one would pick up another rifle in anger, war broke out in the Korean Peninsula. Most Americans had no idea where this was, and, in fact, Ambrose Bierce, the lifelong cynic, had once memorably commented that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” Just as they had, nine years earlier, millions of service people were on the move, westward, and being trained in the hot sands of California deserts to fight in the freezing snows of Korean mountains. 

The war ended in 1953, with the warring sides both able to claim their pre-war boundaries, as though nothing had changed, except for the loss of 5,000,000 lives. And just as had transpired only a few years earlier, millions of returning GIs marveled at California’s climate as they disembarked from transport planes and boarded airliners to Cleveland and Detroit and every other city that has news programs that lead off each night with the weather report. 

In 1956, General Eisenhower, who had been promoted, just a few years earlier, to Commander in Chief, remembered his disillusioning trip across the country 37 years before, and coupled those memories with the ease and efficiency his armed forces had benefited from as they proceeded headlong across the wide, flat and well-maintained highways from France to Germany in 1944 and 1945, signed the Interstate Highways Act, paving the way for a series of much improved roadways to transport people all over the country, especially to California.

By 1960, California had added another 5,000,000, and more, citizens bringing its population to almost 16,000,000 with their almost 8,000,000 cars, and millions upon millions of parking spaces. The state was still number two in the country, now out of 50, but that position was coming to a close soon.

The Car Becomes King

It had come to pass that in the mid-40s, the Pacific Electric Car Line was firmly in the sights of some big predators. The Firestone Tire Company, manufacturer of well, tires, and General Motors, builder of cars and especially, buses, looked to Southern California as their next big market. Through a series of some well-placed “gifts” to legislators, buyouts of Pacific Electric lines, and poor overall streetcar management, the trolleys were completely gone from the streets of Southern California by 1961. 

In the late 50s, the industries that had sprung up to provide the military with the products of war had transformed to industries that were providing the newly organized space agencies with the products of space travel and exploration. 

Let’s jump ahead a bit to 1980. California has been safely ensconced in first place among all states, with its population of almost 24,000,000 people and is parking almost 18,000,000 cars in its lots and garages. All of this rapid and massive growth has resulted in more than just a tremendous demand for parking; smog and unyielding traffic congestion have been natural, inevitable and obnoxious by-products of our car culture. 

As I write this, peering through a kaleidoscope for my view of history, it’s 2022 and the State of California has 12 percent of the total population of the United States, with its 40,000,000 residents and their 29,000,000 cars parked everywhere. Things have changed, dramatically, over the last 120 years. If California were a sovereign nation, it would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy, behind Germany and ahead of India.

Back to Gavrilo Princip 

Returning to my whole premise for this strange twist of an article, there’s really no evidence that Gavrilo Princip had ever even heard of California and he most likely would never have been able to wade through the present-day size of a crowd in California, that his very actions over a hundred years ago helped create, for his appointment with destiny. And you, reader, have a big part in the next years of California’s growth and the state of the parking industry. 

Richard Raskin works for Parking Concepts. He can be reached at

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