50 years ago, Budapest wanted to become a car-friendly city. With a little exaggeration, everything was subordinate to cars, and pedestrians increasingly became second-class citizens. Underpasses and overpasses served to make driving faster, and large-scale plans were made for further motorist developments.

But inner-city Budapest was not built for cars, so there was not really anywhere to park. In the 1970s, cars occupied Vörösmarty Square, there were cars on Váci Street and almost every free space. It was already known that parking would be a problem sooner or later in 1961, barely three years after the re-authorisation of the use of private cars, and even then Martinelli Square in the 5th District – today's Szervita Square – was suggested as a possible location for a parking garage.

On the site of a demolished building, there was a playground on the square until 1969 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 120781)

However, the investment did not become a reality until a decade later, as Hungary's first parking garage, the Martinelli Square building was completed 50 years ago, on 14 March 1973. A residential building originally stood in its place, but it was badly damaged in World War II, so it was demolished and a playground was created on the vacant lot, which operated until 1969 when construction began.

Cars were parked everywhere in the inner city, as was also the case on Martinelli Square at the time (Photo: Fortepan, Uvaterv) 

The parking garage was a typical product of the era, a then modern, otherwise quite bad-looking building was erected in the inner city according to the plans of the Public Building Design Company, which was built together with the headquarters of the OMFB, i.e., the National Technical Development Committee. The parking garage was presented as follows in an article of Népszabadság on 14 March 1973:

"With the 8-story building, covered with aluminium lamella on the outside, they want to alleviate the garage and parking problems of the inner city. From 7 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, around 380-400 cars can park in the building - even on the roof, and from the afternoon to the morning, the same number of cars are provided with garage parking."

At the bottom of the building, a service centre with a floor area of 90 square metres was set up, where cars were repaired in three shifts, and there was also a gas station on the ground floor.

Service at the bottom of the parking garage (Photo: Fortepan, Uvaterv)

However, not everyone was satisfied, even in the highly controlled press of the time, there were opinions and letters from readers that considered it a mistake to further increase the traffic of the already crowded inner city with the huge parking garage. On 15 November 1971, when the plan was made public, the following small opinion article appeared in the Esti Hírlap:

"Yesterday, we read that the parking garage to be built on Martinelli Square will actually be a garage palace. In other words, the cars are not taken away from the crowded Inner City but are also brought here from other districts for storage. The problem of parking in the heart of the capital is not easing, but getting worse, congestion is not decreasing, but increasing. Therefore, it was unnecessary to built-in the small park and the playground. Therefore, it is unnecessary to spend millions and take the resources and the builders from elsewhere."

The construction cost of 55 million HUF (4.84 billion HUF at today's prices) was contributed by 18 companies, in exchange for which the cars of these companies could also park in the garage. One of the companies was IBUSZ, which, as Hungary's leading travel agency at the time, also engaged in car rental, and also stored rental cars for guests of the surrounding hotels.

The parking garage was opened in the summer of 1973 (Photo: Fortepan, Uvaterv)

The parking garage was opened to the public on 1 July 1973, eventually with 350 spaces, but Budapest motorists were reluctant to use it in the first months. In August 1973, the newspaper Magyar Rendőr wrote that the utilisation during the day was 30 per cent. Of course, this could also be because parking was quite expensive, it cost 40 HUF for a whole day and 5 HUF for an hour. Motorists did not like the gas station either, as the Magyar Rendőr wrote in the 30 August 1973 issue, when they interviewed Sándor Halász, the manager of the parking garage:

"The situation is similar, adds Sándor Halász, with the Shell gas station and service operating in the house. Of course, the station and the repair shop can be used not only by the tenants of the parking garage! Despite this, some people drive drive half an hour to Shell gas stations in the suburbs, instead of using these world-class services here.”

The parking garage is no longer standing, it was demolished in recent years, and a new, modern, more attractive building stands in its place.

Cover photo: The parking garage on Martinelli Square (Photo: Fortepan, Uvaterv)