Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Little Comfort in St. Petersburg

Tucked between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of History near St. Petersburg's Pier is this comfort station. "Comfort station" is a fairly outdated term for public restroom.

This particular comfort station is architect-designed, in the Romanesque Revival style (it's a City of St. Petersburg historic landmark). Today it may seem odd to have a pretty public restroom, especially one right on the waterfront in the midst of museums and tourist attractions. But in the early twentieth century, public facilities showed that a city was progressive, clean, safe. Tourism was very important in St. Petersburg in the 1920s, and while no one was not going to come visit because of the restrooms, having a nice comfort station didn't hurt.

The architect of this little gem was Henry Taylor, who designed many of St. Pete's finest buildings, including the Vinoy hotel and St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Church. The remarkable similarity between the later and the comfort station has fed local urban lore, that the church didn't pay Taylor for his work, and in retribution he used the design to build a restroom. However, it seems this story is a case of fiction stranger than fact, based on construction dates and Taylor's wife. It may be more difficult to prove or disprove stories that the comfort station is haunted by a woman named Agnes.

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