Sights ~ Comfort Station, Providence

Comfort Station
corner of Weybosset  and Mathewson
Providence, Rhode Island

Weybosset Comfort Station

The first time I saw the lighthouse-shaped structure, I was curious. The plaques on either side identify the building as an information center, but the doors were locked, and there were stickers on the windows stating that it was a police substation. Curious.

Weybosset Information Center

The condition of the lighthouse makes it look like it's been around awhile, and it has. It was built in 1913 to mark a public "comfort station" belowground.

"Comfort Station, Providence, R.I." from The American City, Vol. 11
This photo must have been taken shortly after the comfort station was open, since the The American City, Vol. 11 was published in 1914. A comfort station is a public restroom, and the book is very concerned with the effect of the availability of hand towels on handwashing (individual towels = greater likelihood of handwashing). You can see that there is no building at this point, only a set of stairs leading belowground.

At some point after 1913 and before 1980, the building was constructed over the stairs. There is a photo of Weybosset Street dated June 19,1980 by Projo photographer Cliff Schiappa, referenced by David Brussat in 2008 in his article "Evolution on Westminster Mall."

I don't see much information on it again until 1994 (and indeed, how much information can you expect to find on the history of a public restroom?). In 1994, the comfort station was rehabilitated and re-opened as a police station/visitor information center. I'm not sure what it was used for before that, or when it fell into disuse.

Sometime between 1994 and 2006, the building shut down again, because it was re-opened in August 2006 as a police sub-station.

Since 2007 or 2008, there has been discussion in the Downcity Design Review Board to move the comfort station tower, with or without its accompanying building, to make room for an expansion of the street to convert it to a two-way street. Brussat argues that Weybosset is already wide enough, and that it can be converted into a two-way street without expansion. The proposal is on the docket for this month's Board meeting.

The building is an interesting piece of history and bit of sculpture. Optimally, I'd like to see it stay where it is. At the same time, it's strange that the building keeps falling into disuse, and maybe it would see more activity if it were somewhere else.


  1. I am always poking around for signs and historical explanations of random structures. Isn't it always the case that the landmark you have no interest in is overflowing with plaques and the one that strikes your fancy has no information at all! I enjoyed following along with your research here :-)


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