by Kevin Walsh

New York is a city that’s fairly hostile to people who just have to go. The city used to be studded with public bathrooms here and there; most early BMT and IRT stations contained public restrooms, and that’s why you often see MEN and WOMEN tiled or terra cotta signs by locked doors. The vast majority of subway bathrooms have been turned into storage rooms.

The reasons for this are simple. There are predators among us and there always will be. There are also vandals among us who deface property because it is there to be defaced. These bathrooms needed to be cleaned and frequently disinfected, and all that costs money. The city does have some public bathrooms remaining — the one in Bryant Park is said to be among the city’s best. By and large, though, it’s best to hold it in until you can find a playground: I always try to have my ForgottenTour routes go past a public park with a public bathroom, since they’re reliably open during the warm months. They’re not the cleanest, but the deed can be done safely and without a whole lot of embarrassment.

There’s a former public bathroom on the center median of Allen Street at Delancey. It was most likely built as a Works Progress Administration project. Most of its detail, including carved MEN and WOMEN signs above the entrances with light sconces are still there. In addition, the New York State seal in bas relief is affixed between them.

You can see the Allen Street bathroom on the right of this 1940 photo from the Municipal Archives. At the time, the 2nd Avenue El ran down the west side of Allen Street, and it was carried over the extra-wide Delancey Street on an iron trestle (the West Side Highway had the same solution at Canal Street and in Brooklyn, the Myrtle Avenue el got across the Flatbush Avenue Extension on a similar iron bridge).

In 2016, permits were acquired to turn the former bathroom into a food vending venue, but nothing seems to have happened yet with that effort.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



CSF May 2, 2019 - 9:04 am

The Parkchester 6 train station in The Bronx has a (or at least they did until 2015) working bathroom that is well maintained.

Tal Barzilai May 2, 2019 - 4:57 pm

It’s too bad that NYC closed down a lot of its public restrooms be it in streets or in subways forcing some to hold it in until they can get to some place that has a restroom in it, though the ones in the major parks are still around.

EW_3 May 2, 2019 - 5:57 pm

Bring back beat cops. They know the neighborhood in detail.
Remember watching one in the late 60s, he went door to door at all the local merchants making sure the doors were locked.
Easy to spot a NYPD car, much harder to see a beat cop.

Peter May 2, 2019 - 9:45 pm

Reopening subway station donickers and keeping them in non-abominable condition would require getting rid of skells, Getting rid of skells would require making vagrancy a crime, as it was decades ago, but the Supreme Court would have to allow that. In short, don’t expect to see subway station donickers anytime soon.


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