Metro-North 125th Street Comfort Station (275894)
Credit: Wikipedia

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Harlem residents from various backgrounds gathered in the shadow of Metro North’s 125th Street Comfort Station calling on the city to invest in rehabilitating the structure and broadening access to safe, clean bathrooms for local residents.

“The Corn Exchange Building is located across the street, and that was in much worse condition than this—but because it was deemed commercially valuable, they put $14 million of city and private money into renovating and reviving that building,” said Picture the Homeless Civil Rights Organizer Nikita Price. “So why won’t they do the same for the Comfort Station, when so many Harlemites are desperately in need of safe, clean bathrooms? They have 15 expensive automated public toilets sitting in a warehouse in Queens, they could put one of them here, too.”

During the rally, advocates also unveiled new research that points to an increase in local citations for public urination—and renews calls for the city to install one of 15 Automated Public Toilets that the city purchased in 2006. The toilets are still sitting in a Queens warehouse.

“I was born and raised in East Harlem, and this bathroom has been locked up since the ’70s,” said Charmel Lucas, a member of PTH who is currently residing in a city-funded shelter. “I’ve talked to seniors, handicapped folks, cab drivers—there’s a whole lot of people out here who need to use the bathroom and have nowhere to go. And the cops gave out 1500 public urination tickets from 2013 to 2017—we definitely want to stop public urination, but the best way to do that is to open up bathrooms like this comfort station.”

Last September, PTH met with the NYC Department of Transportation to try and make the case for reviving the comfort station hoping that it would be protected amid other projects in the area such as expanding the plaza and extending the Second Avenue subway line farther north. According to the MTA environmental assessment for subway expansion, the comfort station is eligible to be listed on New York State and the U.S.’s registries of historic places.

The comfort station is under the control of the NYC Department of Transportation, who have stated that an unreleased engineering report on its structural integrity recommended demolition. Residents like Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, hope the city works with the community to come to a conclusion that helps all involved.

“Every building in East Harlem has a story,” said Ortiz. “But too often, it’s a story of neglect. The city kept this beautiful building locked up tight for decades, and now they want to say it needs to be torn down? The city is trying to transform East Harlem into something shiny and expensive, but that’s not for us—the bike lanes, the hundred-million-dollar waterfront, that’s not for the people who’ve been here for generations. For us, all they have is harassment, tickets, mass displacement.”