The issue: Even an outhouse can have historical value
The small, rectangular building in the northeast quadrant of Central Park is not the usual sort of historic landmark. Built in 1937, the park bathroom’s spartan lines are typical of the Works Projects Administration, which put millions of unemployed men to work during the Great Depression building up America’s infrastructure.
ITS FATE seemed sealed in November 2011, when the Davis City Council voted 3-2 to demolish the building as part of the Central Park Master Plan to refurbish the whole area. City staff considered the old restroom to be a blight and Davis police worried about illegal activity by people loitering about at all hours. The plan envisioned new landscaping, a handicap-accessible playground and, in a bit of irony, a “history plaza” where the bathroom stands.
Undaunted, volunteers for the Hattie Weber Museum and the city’s Historic Resources Management Commission worked to change the council’s mind. They returned in May 2012 with a plan to gut the structure of its plumbing fixtures and non-load-bearing walls, turning it into much-needed storage space for the museum’s ever-growing collection of Davis artifacts. The exterior also would be refurbished, not least by removing an ill-conceived wooden trellis that spoils the building’s lines and obscures its WPA plaque.
It was enough to sway the council to refrain from tearing down the restroom and direct staff to report on the “cost, revised design of park, and challenges of retaining the building.”
Since then, the old restroom has sat in limbo with no decision on its fate. (No report from city staff has been forthcoming.)
NOW, ALMOST two years after the initial vote to condemn the old bathroom, the Hattie Weber Museum has returned with a more detailed proposal. For $4,000, volunteers say, they can make all the improvements they need to turn it into a storage facility.
The trellis would be gone, the iron gates would be replaced by doors and proper landscaping would turn the area into a true “history plaza.” Some of the museum’s collection could be displayed in the refurbished building’s windows, to be viewed from the outside by visitors to Central Park. They even say they can get rid of 70-plus years’ worth of bathroom odor.
It’s time for the council to act and approve this plan. In one move, council members can preserve a piece of local and national heritage, and help the Hattie Weber Museum in its mission to catalog Davis’ history. The issue has dragged on long enough.