A New York public restroom out of the Gilded Age

With its granite walls, long oval window, and decorative touches like wreaths and rosettes carved into the facade, it looks more like a temple (or a mausoleum) that a restroom.

But this Beaux-Arts little building on the north side of Bryant Park is a comfort station, as it was originally called when it was constructed along with the main New York Public Library building in 1911.

In 1922, the comfort station was moved from closer to the library (see above in a Daily News photo, when it was near Fifth Avenue) to a section of Bryant Park on the 42nd Street side.

At this location now for 96 years, it fits right in with nearby stairs, statues, and lampposts that are also straight out of the turn of the last century. And to the relief of passersby and park goers, it’s open to the public.

Even though the restroom looks very Gilded Age on the outside, inside features the latest in modern bathroom luxury. Amenities include Toto toilets, earth-shade wall tiles, seat covers, fresh flowers, and attendants, according to a 2017 New York Times piece.

I’m guessing that this Beaux Arts comfort station is the city’s poshest public place to go.

Up until the 1990s, it wasn’t even open; it shuttered during Bryant Park’s druggy heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.

If you’re curious about taking a look to see the inside, be warned: the line can be dozens of people deep on a sunny park-perfect weekend.

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10 Responses to “A New York public restroom out of the Gilded Age”

  1. Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

    Was pretty active in the early 1960s as a gay pickup site but it wasn’t known as gay back then. You eyed someone, followed him outside, made contact in Bryant Park, and gay history was made. Simple…

  2. Tommy Dulski Says:

    I’ve used that restroom many times. Very clean, very nice.

  3. VirginiaB Says:

    Another great post–thanks. A beautiful little building but what’s with the green door, so out of place with the architecture? It reminded me of the 1950s hit song ‘Green Door’ which I found on YouTube. It pushed Elvis’ ‘Love Me Tender’ out of first place, sorry to digress.

  4. Tom B Says:

    Thanks for the real description of 70’s & 80’s, Druggy Heyday. How/Why did it ever get this way. And I still read posts, not here, about people pining for those days when NYC had grit & excitement. Whether R or D they agree on keeping up these old Gilded Age structures. Good for the City.

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    For decades, Tammany Hall used these public restrooms in the various parks as a way to “employ” widows of Tammany wheelhorses, bosses, and other loyalists, who otherwise were often broke. The widows would serve as the restroom attendants, supposedly keeping them clean.

    However, in real life, they would simply block off all but one stall, and use the rest as parlors, decorating them with plants and flowers, bringing in their friends to play cards, or just read books. One such widow had her piano hauled into the restroom and she would play concerts for her pals or just entertain herself.

    When Robert Moses took over Central Park and began rehabilitating it, he walked into that particular restroom, heard the piano music, and hit the ceiling. The Tammany widows were soon gone, along with the herd of inbred sheep that lived in the Sheep Meadow.

  6. mvschulze Says:

    Remarkable take on the restroom. And I feel for that poor “working horse” in the remarkable photograph! M 🙂

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you! It’s always fascinated me. David, I had no idea bout the Tammany widows!

  8. Shensea Says:

    Reblogged this on Shensea.

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