Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Comfort station" makeovers

The 2 public toilets depicted above - in New York City (1st image) and Scarborough, U.K. (2nd image) - have received radically different renovations.

The 1st 95-year-old building on 42nd St. in Bryant Park was made over in 2006 at a cost of $200,000. The 25' x 18' Beaux Arts building was designed by architects John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings when they created the nearby New York Public Library. Its new interior has grand 10' coffered ceilings, mosaic tiles, crown molding, brushed stainless-steel wall sconces, indirect cove lighting, a wainscoting of mosaic vines and flowers, mirrors framed in cherry wood, sinks and baby-changing table capped with marble, and a large copper urn for fresh flowers in the entry vestibule. The restroom has a full-time attendant and a security guard. "It sets the gold standard for park comfort stations," said parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. The restroom was used by 612,683 visitors in the year before its renovation, and remains open to the public.

In contrast, the other loo overlooking the North Sea at Scarborough now serves only 2. The Victorian building - which had done brief stints as a munitions bunker and a seasonal cafe - was closed permanently in the 1990s, after serving beachgoers for nearly a century. Partners Graham Peck and Tracey Woodhouse bought out the remaining lease for £15,000, renegotiated a new one for £1,800 a year, and spent £35,ooo on a makeover designed by a local architect. The plans maintaining the character and style of the building (shown in a "before" photo) were approved and it was transformed from top to bottom. The oak-beamed ceiling was strengthened with a steel girder; the plumbing, wiring, and ventilation were modernized; the walls were insulated; underfloor gas heating was added; and patio doors and windows were installed. What was the men's room has been converted into a living room and kitchen and the women's room is now the bedroom and bath. No more public access, although curiosity has made the owners a number of new friends. "We can be watching TV or washing the dishes and suddenly a face will peer through the window. I don't know who's more surprised, them or us."

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