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Salem's Underground…Toilets

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Salem's Underground…Toilets

Corner of State and High Streets looking to the northeast

In looking at this image of the Marion County Courthouse today, our volunteer Bob Tompkins pointed out some interesting features.

The foundations you can see in the bottom left corner, are the beginnings of the Masonic building, that is still stands downtown at the NW corner of State and High Streets.***Note — A good case has been made that instead of foundations for the Masonic building, the image may really predate the construction and show a paddock used by stables located at that corner.  See the discussion here.***

He also mentioned that there were underground toilets on the NE corner of this intersection, where the curving path meets the sidewalk in the picture.  These public toilets (which were also remembered by two other volunteers) were accessed by stairways that split off from the sidewalk and were demarcated by a couple of guardrails.  They were flush toilets with a cement floor that were vented through a round, tower-like structure that was visible from the street level.

There were a few things our volunteers weren’t so sure about.  They couldn’t remember if there were separate women’s and men’s facilities, but definitely think there could have been two toilets, maybe on separate corners.  Also, they weren’t sure when it was built, but the general consensus was that it was probably after WWII, or maybe even as early as a Great Depression WPA project, and it was filled in probably in the late 1940s.

No Comments

  1. Capital Taps August 17, 2011 at 6:01 am - Reply

    Very interesting! Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse also had them, though from a slightly earlier vintage (entry, interior, here, and here). Are they at all similar?

    • whclarc August 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm - Reply

      I’ll show our volunteers the pictures and ask what they remember.

  2. Ann W. Thomas August 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    Fascinating. Too bad about all the inaccuracies.

    • whclarc August 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm - Reply

      Tell me more! What inaccuracies? We’d love to set the record straight.

  3. whclarc August 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Volunteer George Knox has found a photo of these mysterious restrooms! It appeared in a documentary of Streetcars around Oregon on OPB. I’ve posted it above. In looking at this new photo, the volunteers pointed out that the tower at the corner was the ventalation pipe. Two sets of guardrails for the stairs down to the toilets can be seen to the left and right of the nearest streetlights to the tower. The men’s restroom entered from the stairs parallel to State Street and the women’s those parallel to High Street. Of other interest in the photo are three buildings that no longer stand in those positions. The Marion County Courthouse and State Capitol Building, have since been destroyed and the old Post Office Building, now Gatke Hall, was moved to the Willamette University Campus.

  4. Capital Taps August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Well, dang! There is so much of interest here.

    Here’s a better reproduction of your first image. Between the caption, the wagons, and the fencing, I’m inclined to think it’s a paddock associated with the Fashion Stables circa 1900, visible in this image, and not excavation for the Masonic building circa 1911.

    But that’s in the nature of a quibble.

    More interesting is the mysterious column! It is also visible here and here, but not here, here or here. Readers and volunteers with a better knowledge of automobile models and fashion might be able to date it more securely through these additional images, small as they are.

    I do wonder, though, about the water table, flooding, and toilets below ground in this location. Is it possible the tower was an early traffic signal?

    This is a fascinating question!

  5. whclarc September 4, 2011 at 6:57 am - Reply

    Thanks for the better pictures and the catches of my mixing up of lefts and rights and confusing sentences. Four of our volunteers remember using the toilets, so I am pretty confident they were there. They also told stories about how, the men’s side at least, used to collect a significant number of beer bottles and suggested that young people sneaking down to drink down there may have been one of the reasons they were filled in.

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