Friday, June 30, 2017

A Century Before the Arta-Potty, a Comfort Station at the Court House

A few years back over at the Woolen Mill's blog there was some talk about the mystery of subterranean public restrooms at the corner of State and High. It was not clear how long they were there and when they were built.

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)
And they were apparently designed by George Post, who also was responsible for many of Salem's now-historic buildings, including our Carnegie Library, one of the Whitlock's buildings, McKinley School, and the McGilchrist building (more here and here.)

June 28th, 1917
From the paper on 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 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
There was some wrangling at Council and the County over design, funding, and on-going maintenance, but in December they were finally finished.

December 18th, 1917
But they would not open to the public for another month, on January 21st. On the 22nd
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
They were popular, apparently. Maybe too popular. The janitor was deputized with police powers to "arrest any evildoers...doing mischief about the station."

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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a fantastic article! I have been taking tours by those amazing sidewalk skylights and the old dingy stairway that descends to underground level for years. What a great thing you have done by bringing this history forward!