Nice public comfort stations

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Public toilet in Torun, Poland. (Photo by C.W. Westfall)

Paris always had great places to take a leak. New York’s public restrooms at Bryant Park, outside of the New York Public Library, also astonish us (today) that so much effort was made to celebrate the accomplishment of our most basic bodily functions. Providence had at least two elegant comfort stations. One was at Exchange Place (Kennedy Plaza) and became the Plaza Café, run by Pat Cortelessa, longtime opponent of the late Buddy Cianci, mayor for 21 years, then expanded to become an intermodal transit station. The other was opposite the Providence Performing Arts Center on Weybosset Street, which was also expanded to become a police substation and ticket sales kiosk. The design of neither addition attempted to reflect the degree of beauty of the original public pissoirs, but neither did they try to box the originals on the ears, as is more common these days. The facility on Weybosset was recently trimmed back to its original size to serve as a folly in the street’s recent, but only partially satisfactory, renovation.

I was launched on this quest for rare Providence comfort station images by Carroll William (“Bill”) Westfall’s photo, sent to TradArch, of a public toilet in Torun, Poland, which he photographed in 1968. In response, Christopher Liberatos sent in a selection of Parisian toilets, some of which I’ve printed below, concluding with an apparent modernist pissoir attempt.

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Exchange Place comfort station; Butler Exchange, 1878, in background, before Industrial Trust, 1928. (The American City, 1914)

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Expanded into bus station, 2002 (Flickr.com)

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Weybosset Street comfort station, 1914. (The American City)

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Weybosset comfort station expanded, 1992. (Flickr.com)

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Weybosset comfort station reduced to folly. (gcpvd.org)

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Restrooms at Bryant Park/NYPL. (nytimes.com)

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Photos of Parisian pissoirs publiques here and below. (messynessychic.com)

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Architecture History, Art and design, Other countries, Photography, Preservation, Providence, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Nice public comfort stations

  1. stevejcoyle says:

    Thanks, David, for a look back at a time when relief was “on the way”. I remember it well.

    Like

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