It turns out, they're from almost exactly a century ago! They were bid out and constructed in the summer and then fall of 1917.
|Public Restrooms on State and High:|
the "kiosk" and iron railings around the stairs are clearly visible
Memorial Day parade, 1941 (Salem Library Historic Photos)
|June 28th, 1917|
Plans have been completed for the comfort station to be erected jointly by the city and county on the southwest corner of the court house lawn, and in a recent interview, George M. Post, the architect, gave the salient features of the building. The station will be entirely underground, with only the stair way railings and the Kiosk visible.There was some wrangling at Council and the County over design, funding, and on-going maintenance, but in December they were finally finished.
There will be two rest rooms, one for the women, 14 by 18 feet in size, and one for the men 9 by 13 feet. The women's side of the station will be on High street, and the [...] room with the lavitory will extend 51 feet north and south. The State street side, where the men's waiting room and lavitory are situated, is 43 feet long. A drinking fountain will be a feature of each rest room.
Entrance will be gained by means of two stairways, one on High and the other on State street. These will have an iron railing around, to prevent accidents. Tho entire structure will be of re-inforced concrete. Sidewalk lights will help to dispell the gloom on sunny days, and a system of electric lighting will assist at all times. The plumbing will be of a sanitary type.
The heating and ventilating features are especially unique, as the rooms will be heated by a system of gas radiators. Hot water will be supplied by a Rudd automatic gas water heater. The clear height of the rooms will be 8 1-2 feet. The ventilating feature will perhaps be the most interesting feature of the building, including as it does the kiosk, an octagonal shaft 15 feet in height, of re-enforced concrete, rising on the very corner of the lawn. This shaft is hollow, and the foul air is forced up this, and out at the top. Fresh air enters through openings on the stairways, and after passing through the rest rooms is drawn into tho lavitories by an electric fan situated at the base of the kiosk. From the lavitories it passes through air ducts into a utility passage where it comes into the fan duct and is thrown out.
The Kiosk will be an ornament of very artistic design, and will be finished in white cement. Four lamps, of the bracket design will quarter the shaft near the top. The building will be equipped with all modern conveniences and comforts
|December 18th, 1917|
H. H. Stanton, chairman of the special comfort station committee of the city council, announced informally that the station has been completed and was opened for the public at 10 o'clock yesterday morning. The committee was given a special vote of thanks by the council.
|January 23rd, 1918|
Unsurprisingly for a below-ground installation, it flooded just a month later:
The city comfort station is closed for an indefinite time owing to sewer trouble at the foot of Ferry street. It is said the sewer has caved in and shut off all drainage. Water has backed up over the floor of the comfort station to a depth of several inches and the basements of several business houses are flooded. Street Commissioner Low is having difficulty securing employes to work on the sewer at the wages he is permitted to pay. It is not known just how long it will take to repair the sewer and remedy the trouble.Throughout 1918 and 1919 there is a good bit of debate at Council over janitorial duties and budget. Resources for on-going cleaning weren't fully thought through!
It would be interesting to know more about when the bathrooms fell into disuse and when they were demolished. It's a reasonable hypothesis to suppose they were demolished with the demolition of the old courthouse and construction of the new in 1952-54. But it could have been earlier. The photo at top shows the structure at least as still around in 1941. If at some point in the future I can get an end date, I'll update this.
Here are a couple of notes with great old photos (here, here) on the ones in Portland, apparently designed by Ellis F. Lawrence, and a model for Salem's.