A story is making the Internet rounds claiming that Comfort Station No. 1 in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida is haunted. It’s not. However, its lack of ghosts should not detract from the stunning architecture that makes it one of the most beautiful and historic public restrooms in the United States.
St. Petersburg experienced large tourism in the 1920s. Hotel construction rose as people came to enjoy the warm winter weather. Architects drew inspiration from Europe building such historic hotels as The Hotel Cordova (1921), the Don CeSar Hotel (1928), and the Vinoy Park Hotel (1925). Shortly after designing the Vinoy, architect Henry L. Taylor (1884-1958) designed Comfort Station No. 1.
At the corner of 2nd Avenue and Bayshore Drive North sits an 8-sided brick building. Topped with Spanish tiles, the octagonal structure is modeled after the Lombardy Romanesque style. Although this is not Taylor’s most important architectural feat, it is one of his most debated.
Bids were taken in March 1927, with permits and construction commencing by the summer. It reportedly cost $16,000 and was completed and operational by May 10, 1928 when a Lost and Found ad ran in the St. Petersburg Times. Ironically, the person who ran the ad found a Masonic ring at the station. The February 1929 issue of The American City praised the facility—both functionally and aesthetically.
Urban legends continue to swirl. The first claimed that Taylor built the facility to resemble St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, situated at 515 4th Street South. Both structures are octagonal and share similar features. The story further claims that Taylor took umbrage to being shorted on the church project and designed the restrooms as an insult. This is factually incorrect. The bathroom was designed and built before the church, where construction began in 1929. Several newspaper articles, namely the September 9, 1992 St. Petersburg Times article, dispels this rumor.
Comfort Station No. 1 is sometimes called “Little St. Mary’s” or “St. Mary’s Comfort Station.” These are tributes to the similarities between the restroom and the church. While Taylor left no indication as to his reasoning on the design, some postulate that the restroom was a prototype for the large Byzantine style church.
One online tale also claims that Taylor himself haunts the station. Hardly. He built larger, more glamourous buildings to spend eternity.
Another Internet story refers to an elderly woman named “Agnes” who chats ladies up at the sink. After hours searching several online databases, I was unable to find an elderly woman who was alive in the 1930s (she reportedly was wearing clothes of that period) who died around the pier. Using a preconceived old-fashioned name doesn’t make the story true.
The comfort station sits along the retaining wall at the entrance to Pier Approach Park. Over the decades, the park consisted of several large piers: The Railroad Pier (1889); The Pier Pavilion (1895); The Electric Pier (1906); The Million Dollar Pier (1926); and The Inverted Pyramid Pier (1973). Engineers grew concerned by the saltwater erosion on the pilings; therefore, the pier is undergoing another rebuild/renovation.
There are numerous reasons why people hear sounds in the comfort station. First of all: it’s an oversized bathroom. The water lapping against the seawall also creates sounds. Hide tide, low tide; they all make waves. Boats entering/leaving the yacht basin. Acoustics against the tiles. Wildlife hovering about or scurrying underneath. In addition, fog and mist are frequent weather occurrences. Not one tale references actual investigations conducted to debunk.
Historic and old buildings are not necessarily haunted. I’ve visited this location numerous times (I used to live 16 blocks from here and would walk to the park). Never did I have an experience. Further, never did I hear about experiences. Visit Comfort Station No. 1 and reflect on a time when motorists did not have public conveniences and the one progressive city that took up matters by erecting a classic pit stop.