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Feature: What's in a Garage?

Brett Anderson

Several years ago, Bruce Hannay—a senior vice president for Prudential Financials and self-confessed car addict from the tender age of 2—determined to construct a space at his Phoenix, Ariz., home to display his vast bounty of automobile memorabilia, along with two of his vintage race cars. As he and his wife contemplated the possibilities, their notions of this space—its size and purpose—evolved. As with any home project, the list of requirements eventually included an inviting space in which to entertain guests and friends, an upstairs office, a guest bedroom and bath, a home theater, a basement storage area, and, atop the mounting structure they envisioned, an expansive sundeck offering panoramic views of the city’s wind-sculpted Camelback Mountain. Reluctant to employ the term garage to describe this ambitious scheme, the Hannays dubbed this assemblage their “guest house.” Yet the name didn’t take with anyone else. “My architect called it a cabana,” Hannay says. And when construction began, he recalls, “The neighbors who saw the deep excavation and tons of steel that went into it assumed we were building a bomb shelter.”

Before this epic groundbreaking, however, the couple confronted challenges of a more abstract nature. While their wish list grew, the designated parcel of land at the back of their property, measuring 25 feet by 35 feet, did not. In addition, local building codes imposed limitations of a different sort on the Hannays’ designs. The architect engaged to wage this battle against bureaucracy set to work organizing the various rooms into a matrix that paid heed to both city code and the laws of physics to achieve a simplicity and aesthetic harmony that, initially, surprised the homeowners.

“Because ours is a traditional ranch-style house set in an old citrus orchard, I was surprised when the architect’s solution was to design a very contemporary building, industrial in nature, built entirely of steel, concrete and glass,” explains Hannay. “I remember telling Kate that this would either be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, but we wouldn’t know until it was too late.”

But the prospect of creating a truly unique edifice to house both cars and collection swayed the couple. The result is a streamlined construction that marries the precise angles of steel and glass to the roughened, more unrefined surfaces of whitewashed brick. The balanced, understated effect of the whole conveys the same generous candor that characterizes the owners themselves. A visually inviting piece of architecture, the space is intended not for display, but for communion—between visitor and host, yes; but also between visitor and the building’s true occupants, a 1927 Grand Prix Bugatti Type 37 and a 1935 Miller-Ford.

On the subject of these vehicles, Hannay exercises in full his consuming passion for the automotive art—as well as his obvious relish in sharing it among like minds. “When I was in high school, I bought a book called Cars to Remember,” he recounts. The two cars depicted that he most favored were a Bugatti Type 37 and a Miller 91 Indy car owned by the Harrah’s Museum and touted as the only running Miller in the world. Twenty years later, he says, he set out on a quest to acquire his own Grand Prix Bugatti, traveling back and forth from California to New England to inspect the various candidates. The search, however, came to an end in San Francisco, where the blue Bugatti that graces the foyer of the guest house resided with a collector who, it happened, also owned a Miller. Unlike the pristine Bugatti, the Miller called for a ground-up restoration to realize Hannay’s boyhood ideal. Happily, he bought both racers.

Though Hannay owns other classic cars, the Bugatti and the Miller represent the apex of early 20th-century race car design in Europe and the United States, respectively. But, he observes, while the Bugatti brand remains well-known today, the Miller moniker has faded from public memory, living on primarily in the imaginations—and collections—of connoisseurs like himself. Interestingly, Harry Miller himself came out of retirement to produce Hannay’s 1935 Miller-Ford for Preston Tucker (later of the Tucker automobile) and Edsel Ford. The car incorporated the then-new Ford V-8, rather than a Miller engine, and 10 were built to race at Indianapolis. Of the 10 cars, four qualified; Hannay’s, driven by George Bailey, completed 65 laps.

“I love the history of the cars,” reflects Hannay, “the artistry and sheer exhilaration of owning and driving these treasures.” He continues to express this sentiment through his collection. But its truest expression—the one that most sincerely reveals Hannay’s own personality—remains the guest house. “Many collectors blur the distinction between garage and house, choosing to invite cars into our homes to be displayed as art, rather than being tucked away in some distant warehouse,” he says, and in a momentary lapse, adds, “I’m honored that you’re sharing our garage with your readers.”

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Photo by Vicky Lam
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Courtesy of Pangolin London with Amelia McNeil/Carter Wells/Race Furniture/Sanderson Ltd.