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Building the Perfect Beast: The Construction of Turtle Garage

“All of the buildings, all of those cars, were once just a dream in somebody’s head.”

—Peter Gabriel, Mercy Street, 1986

The Turtle Garage began life as an idea in my head. In 2003 I started giving serious thought to building my dream garage. My fledgling car and motorcycle collection started gaining momentum, and my vehicles needed a permanent home. I was frustrated because I had no central location to store, share, and enjoy my cars and bikes. I fantasized about what to build and where to build it. Suddenly, I started noticing garages everywhere. I found myself driving by random four-car garages and circling back to study the design and sneak photographs. I started asking my friends questions about their garages. I started keeping notes and files.

My first goal was to find an appropriate central location that was in proximity to my weekday home of New York City. My logic was that regardless of where my life took me I’d probably always maintain roots in Westchester Country New York. I was still single at the time, and the answer was simple. I convinced my parents to let me use a corner of our family farm in Bedford, New York. The farm was not only the most economical route, but it also was the most beautiful. I ultimately settled on a perfect site that would meet my needs but not impact the bucolic meadows of our farm. We situated the building within the same line and envelope of existing structures. There was an ideal place towards the back of the stunning 100-acre property. My dream garage found a home in a very sentimental, private, and appropriate location that is only 43 miles north of midtown Manhattan.

Malcolm Pray and I used to hang out on rainy Sundays and sketch out various garage plans. Being a Porsche, VW, and Audi dealer for many decades gave him a decisive edge in automobile-related building design and construction. Over the years, Malcolm built several car dealerships. He had also recently developed a spectacular private garage to house his extraordinary seventy-five car collection. On the subject of garages, nobody knew more than Malcolm. I leveraged his knowledge, expertise, and passion. I will never forget what he told me: “Philip, always build bigger than you think as your collection will surely grow.” This advice was priceless since it is very hard (and expensive) to go back later and add onto a garage. Malcolm was also adamant that the Turtle Garage use a free-span design so it would not have clumsy support poles. This feature would add significant costs but would make maneuvering cars a cinch. The absence of support poles would prevent dreaded door-dings. He also had many ideas on flooring and lighting. Malcolm’s attention to detail went right down to the placement of electrical outlet locations. Collector vehicles need to be trickle charged, and you don’t want extension cords crisscrossing your garage. He also put his foot down about the need to have an alternate power supply. We installed a Generac generator to provide power should a failure occur. The Turtle Garage has oversized underground natural gas tanks so the generator can run non-stop for over a week. Malcolm and I spent three years considering all the options, alternatives, and details. Today I look back on these planning sessions with Malcolm as sacred time. Post-construction Malcolm and I spent a lot of time at the Turtle Garage. Malcolm S. Pray, Jr. died at age 84 in 2013.

Malcolm S. Pray, Jr. at the Turtle Garage

Suddenly in 2006, building my garage moved from fantasy to reality. In 2005 I had made a wildcat investment in an oil and gas well. The project was a real longshot. It was a 9,000-foot completion in the Hollywood Sands zone of the Turtle Bayou Field in southern Louisiana. The project was managed, operated, and financed by my good friend Charles Goodson and his team at PetroQuest Energy (NYSE: PQ)  Charles is a seasoned oil and gas CEO and has significant experience and success drilling in Lousiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The risk was high because the geology around Turtle Bayou was complicated and very unpredictable. The odds were likely that Turtle Bayou would be a so-called “dry hole.” Years before, PetroQuest had quite a lot of success drilling a nearby project. In oil and gas parlance, Turtle Bayou was right on the fairway. It didn’t take much for Charles t0 convince me to give it a shot. Charles is the most honorable and trustworthy person I know, and he has a real nose for finding oil and gas. Despite the negative odds I followed my gut and took a chance.

I got the call one July morning in 2006. We hit big pay dirt big time! Turtle Bayou ended up being a huge discovery, and it handsomely paid back investors for over five years. My small one percent working interest became worth real money. Beyond the well itself, I benefitted because oil and gas investments are tax advantaged, Sometimes in life its better to be lucky than smart. In the wake of this large oil and gas discovery Turtle Garage was born! I’ve been so blessed to have people like Malcolm and Charles in my life. Without these two individuals, Turtle Garage would not exist.

Charles Goodson after a great discovery!

The Turtle Garage was designed with the future in mind. The north side of the garage has a high ceiling to accommodate car lifts. The front of the building faces east and the rear faces west. Currently, there is one Backyard Buddy lift installed and there is room for two more. We ran fiber-optic lines all the way from the main road to ensure that the building enjoyed the fastest data rates possible. We used state of the art efficient Andersen windows that help keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The interior walls were injected with high tech foam insulation to create a tight structure. The entire building is “smart.” It is fully controllable over the Internet and can run on an iPhone. We utilized biometric access control, Nest thermostats, Sonos audio, and live web-based surveillance cameras. All of these devices can be accessed from anywhere in the world 24/7 via an ordinary smartphone. The building is also equipped with two large HD Sony flat screens. A state of the art fire and security system brings peace of mind while away. The Boston Acoustics audio system has dozens of built-in speakers and provides high-fidelity sound all over the building. Wall controllers allow remote management of the sophisticated audio control rack. We also installed large Traulsen industrial grade refrigerators and freezers. Upstairs, a big SubZero wine cooler keeps red and white wine at the ready.

On the outside of the structure, we used beautiful copper gutters. We matched the gutters with a custom made copper weathervane of a southern Lousiana turtle (the rough-shelled Macrochelys Retemminckii, or Alligator Snapping Turtle to be specific). For the Turtle Garage weathervane, we chose to replicate a species of turtle that is indigenous to the region of Louisiana where the Turtle Bayou oil well is located. This masterpiece was designed and built by West Coast Weathervanes. The Turtle Garage weathervane is a work of art and took over eighteen months to fabricate. The finishing touch on the building was three coats of high-quality Benjamin Moore stain and paint.

Backyard Buddy Car Lift at the Turtle Garage

Turtle Garage weathervane by West Coast Weathervanes.

What follows is a photo essay of the Turtle Garage construction project. The photographs cover the last ten years. This project has been a decade-long odyssey and it is my hope that the fun will continue well into the future. Part of the fun of a project like this is that it never ends. Building a garage (and of course sourcing the vehicles you put in it) is a life-long pursuit.

Blue Prints and Architectural Plans:

Early Site Planning and Preparation:

Early Framing and Construction:


Roofing, Siding, Insulation, and Trim:

Exterior Finishes:


Masonry Work:


Stone Wall:

Finishings and Lighting:

The Turtle at Rest:

My office at the Turtle Garage

The view from the live 24/7 Turtle Cam


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3 Responses to Building the Perfect Beast: The Construction of Turtle Garage

  1. Dean Laumbach January 6, 2018 at 10:44 pm #

    Turtle Garage is literally sacred ground for automobile enthusiast from our era. Kind of like the Vatican to the Catholic Church !!!

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