The Lingering Scent of Park Neglect

What do I sniff? The mouth-watering aroma of money in the air! Boston is looking for bright ideas to privatize and spiff up an abandoned public men’s restroom on the Boston Common, according to the Boston Globe. Specifically, the city wants folks to propose a restaurant for this odd little octagonal building, which was built in the 1920’s of “cast stone.” (I thought the whole point of stone was that it came pre-made. And who cast the first stone, anyway?)  The eight-sided wonder has 660 whole square feet available for serving Eight-Way Cinncinnati chili or Make Way for Duckling Breast sandwiches or whatever Bostonians think is exotic and edible nowadays.

Now, mind you, I’m all in favor of privatized food operations in a park; that’s the way it’s done pretty much everywhere, and even the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has food vendors nowadays, so it can’t be at all controversial. I’m not even terribly excited by the question of what must have happened to the women’s restroom, which is nowhere to be seen. No, what caught my eye in the Globe story was this sentence: “Built in the 1920s for use as a public toilet facility, the Men’s Comfort Station has been closed to the public since the 1970s.”

In case you aren’t of a calculating frame of mind today, that means that this bathroom has been closed to the public for almost forty years. The last time anyone peed anywhere other than the doorway, Whitey Bulger was still running the Winter Hill Gang, Barack Obama was in grade school, and your family refrigerator was avocado green.

For four decades, a prominently-located building in the middle of the Boston Common has been allowed to fester and rot. According to the RFP, “The current condition of the building is very poor.  The glass and copper roof has failed, the entry door is severely damaged, and the interior finishes are damaged beyond repair.” The sewer connection “does not appear to be intact.” Pee-yew.

When I think about the current push to look for corporate sponsors for bits of the Common–described in this Radio Boston piece, among other places–I think about this building, and a long-term culture of neglect. It’s lovely to build new benches with bright shining billboards; will our corporate patrons be so generous with decades-old detached sewers? Corporate sponsorships come and go, depending on the board of directors’ whims and the economy’s plunges, but in our town, abandoned restrooms are here to stay for years, and years, and years.

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