Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Historic Preservation In The Post-Pandemic Future

5 media principles in the wake of COVID-19 - Think with Google
Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Wednesday afternoon and time for another in the series of socially distant post.  Brief news update.

First, the grim news: The United States reached two disturbing milestones.  The number of people infected reached the one million mark, making the United States the global leader in new COVID-19 cases.  Also the number of people who died from the virus surpassed the number of killed in the Vietnam War.  To put it in context, the number of confirmed virus deaths is 61,342 as of right now, over a three month period.  The number of combat deaths during the War was 58,318, between 1959 and 1975.  Finally, Ohio held its primary and, no surprise, VPOTUS Joe Biden won.  New York cancelled its June 23rd primary and will ask voters to cast their ballots by mail.  Onward.

She Kept a Diary of China's Coronavirus Epidemic. Now She Faces a ...
Wuhan, China
Is there a connection between pandemics and urban density?  Historically, the is yes.  Pandemics such as cholera, yellow fever, and influenza spread quickly in dense urban areas.  However like everything else, the COVID-19 virus has upended the notion of urban density as the conduit for disease.

From the beginning of the pandemic, places with high urban population density have appeared to be particularly at risk.  The typical argument reads, "...high population density makes cities more vulnerable to epidemics because of the possibility of frequent interpersonal contacts,..."(; Apr. 20, 2020; date accessed Apr. 28, 2020).  It sounds like a pretty straightforward argument, but if you take a closer look, this argument does not hold up.  Densely populated cities like Singapore, Seoul, and Shanghai have out preformed less populated cities in combating the virus (Ibid).

To determine whether population density is a key factor in the spread of the virus, the World Bank studied 284 Chinese cities, focusing on two relevant indicators;
  • the number of confirmed coronavirus cases per 10,000 people; and
  • the population density in the built up area (Ibid)
The evidence researchers found does not support the argument that posits density is a key factor in the spread of the virus (Ibid). In the interest of comparison: "cities with very high population densities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Zhuhai had far fewer confirmed cases per 10,000 people" (Ibid)  These wealthier cities were able to mobilize their financial resources to deal with the virus.  On the contrary, the cities with the highest infection rates were those with relatively lower population density, about 5,000 to 10,000 people per square kilometer.  The higher infection rates were attributed to their connection to Wuhan (Ibid).  Therefore, density may not the enemy after all but neither is sprawl.

Coronavirus will have harsh, lasting impact on San Fernando Valley ...
The San Fernando Valley, California

Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley is the epicenter suburban sprawl and the bane of urbanists who prefer central urban cores.  Joel Kotkin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, 

Yet, in the COVID-19 pandemic, our much-maligned dispersed urban pattern has proven a major asset.  Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs have had a considerable number of cases, but overall this highly diverse, globally engaged region has managed to keep rates of infection well below that of dense, transit-dependent New York City (; Apr. 26, 2020; date accessed Apr. 28, 2020)

Once the crisis passes, further study will be required to explain why some regions of the United States are able to stave off infection better than others.  However one thing has become abundantly clear, differences in employment, housing patterns, and transit modes appear to be significant, albeit not decisive, factors (Ibid).  The point Yours Truly is trying make is the argument that denser contemporary cities are spawning grounds for disease and the suburbs are healthier places to live has been obliterated by the virus.  Further, historic preservation offers a way to address the density issues.  Whether you believe density is the enemy or not, one thing is certain, the way forward is, perhaps, managing both.  Read on

The short definition of historic preservation is managing change.  Change in the urban environment is what will take place in the post-virus era and historic preservation can play a part.  How you may ask?  Read on

Comprehensive Guide to the Minneapolis / St. Paul Startup and Tech ...
Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota
Bill Lindeke considers density a historic resource.  In 2014, Mr. Lindeke published a thought provoking post, "Density is an Historic Resources" (; Apr. 22, 2014; date accessed Apr. 29, 2020) in which he writes, "Historically, our cities were rich not just in high-quality architecture, but in high-quality density" (Ibid).
The historic buildings that populate our cities were products of an era when cities were much denser then they are today.  This fact helped fuel the concept that the suburbs were better, healthier places to live and raise a family.

27 Best St Paul Streets images | Minnesota, Minneapolis, Twin cities
Historic photo of St. Paul, Minnesota

Bill Lindeke makes the case for bringing cities, Minneapolis-St.Paul or your city, back to their historic densities.  However in order to do that, difficult decisions have to be made.  He poses the questions,

Is the historic value of an old house, or sidewalk, a 1920s commercial storefront worth more than than the historic value of street life and density?  How do we make that decision? (Ibid)

There are no simple answers.  Change, or managing it, is neither good nor bad.  It is inevitable part of urban life.  Honestly, buildings are not exactly the most lovable things.  For all the grandiose declarations that accompany them, buildings are places where people live and work.  Being a preservation-minded blogger, Yours Truly is fully aware that historic buildings and places are valuable.  Witness the controversy that surrounded the demolition of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  More importantly, just because a building is old and not as useful anymore (Michael Govan), does not mean it should be tossed aside to make way for a vanity project.  Mr. Lindeke writes, "But so too is the kind of density that fostered those buildings in the first place. Recreating density deserves to be part of the discussion" (Ibid).

The best things to do in San Francisco | Telegraph Travel
San Francisco, California

In 2017 The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab turned its attention to the relationship between old buildings and the challenges and solutions they offer cities.  The Preservation Green Lab analyzed four American cities: Seattle, Denver, Washington D.C., and New York, paying close attention to the issues of affordability, density, and displacement.  Density was the one issue that dominated the debates (; Apr. 18, 2017; date accessed Apr. 29, 2020).

Edward Glaeser argued in his book The Triumph of the City, "cities with growing populations must provide adequate housing for incoming residents of they will face increasingly severe affordability challenges" (Ibid).  Mr. Glaeser assigned partial blame to preservationists, writing, 

Construction restrictions tie cities to their past and limit the possibilities for the future (Ibid)

It is true that preservation ordinances my restrict construction in some place, the also protect and manage older buildings that provide dense affordable space for homes, offices, restaurants, and shops (Ibid)

Driving Downtown - Seattle Washington USA : pics
Downtown Seattle, Washington
The Preservation Green Lab's 2014 Study Older, Smaller, Better (; 2014; date accessed Apr. 29, 2020), looked at the contributions older buildings in Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.--not only their relationship to affordability and density but also in connection to walkability, vitality, characteristics of jobs and businesses (Ibid).  The study concluded that there was a "clear, statistically significant link between blocks of older, smaller, mixed-age buildings and heighten levels of population density" (; Apr. 18, 2017).  As it turns out, older buildings have a unique ability to "comfortable and inconspicuously fit incredible densities of residents,  jobs, and businesses into relatively compact spaces" (Ibid).  

Perhaps you can chalk it up to the original design intelligence, phrase coined by Cherilyn Widell, further evidenced in the writings of Stewart Brand, the oft-quoted Carl Elefante, and others--is apropos to space-saving strategies for creating more housing as it is for more energy efficient heating and cooling solutions (Ibid).

14 Things to See & Do in Downtown DC |
Downtown Washington D.C.

To be fair, areas with older building are not necessarily more dense and the findings of the Preservation Green Lab may prove to be inconsistent in the future, a future in which pandemic diseases, like COViD-19, will play a role in urban planning and design.  Thus far, one thing we know for sure, density was not a determinant in the rapid spread of the virus.  What we do know is that historic preservation creates its own density without additional construction.  Through strategic use of preservation ordinances and the toolkit, Yours Truly firmly believes that historic preservation can play a vital role in the post-pandemic future of cities. 


Monday, April 27, 2020

The Ladies Lounge

What does 'do the five' mean? - Quora
Hello Everyone:

It is a very warm Monday and time for another edition of socially distant blog.  Before we get started, a reminder, as if Yours Truly has to say this: DO NOT INGEST BLEACH OR ANY CLEANING PRODUCT.  Here is the rule: if someone, other than your doctor suggests a treatment or offers you advice, ignore it.  Got that?  Now then, Yours Truly still has bathrooms on the brain but in a more glamorous, sexist sort of way.

The Ladies Room, the Women's Restroom, the Ladies Lounge.  Whatever you call it, it evokes a certain glamour.  Think soft lighting, plush furniture, polished surfaces, an attendant at the ready with a warm towel or tissue.  Boudoir-like settings, not something sterile and industrial built to promote good hygiene and sanitation.  The evolution and demise of the ladies lounge is a story of glamour and sexism that began with the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851
1851 Great Exhibition
London, England

The 1851 Great Exhibition was defining moment in human history.  For a penny, visitors could marvel at the great wonder of the Industrial Revolution and have the opportunity to it out, pull the chains and gaze in amazement at how this new technology worked.  What was this great invention?  The flush toilet.  A mahogany-seated flush toilet in the ladies lounge (; Dec. 3, 2018; date accessed Apr. 22, 2020).  Truly one of the greatest things to come out of the Industrial Revolution.  That and modern sanitation, since were on the subject.

The Great Exhibition was notable for one other thing, it "was one of the first major recorded events that featured public restrooms" (Ibid).  The organizers of the Great Exhibit understood that people came to the Crystal Palace--built for the event--and needed a place to relieve themselves.  The women's facilities included a parlor attached to the room with the toilet stalls.

Georgian Era Toilets
Georgian era toilet

Design historian Alessandra Wood explained,

The Victorians...valued privacy and modesty, and we see that translated into the public restroom, especially these lounge spaces attached to women's room,... If you think about Victorian garments, they were very big--hard to get in and out of--and you'd actually need a space to get undressed to go to the bathroom, and then get dressed again (Ibid)

Thankfully, this is no longer the case.  If you go to any department store or posh club, you can still find a lounge area next to the toilet stall room.  If you have encountered them, you may not even realize how this design feature came into existence and why anyone thought it was a necessary feature.  Think about it for a second, why would you need a sort of public living room next to the bathroom.  Elizabeth Yuko writes, "As it turns out, it's a curious combination of Victorian culture, class and race divisions, retail marketing, and what men thought women needed when they ventured out in public" (Ibid)  Spoiler alert: it involves a sofa.  Shall we discuss?

The foundation for the ladies lounge was the idea of separate spheres: "the women's places was in the home and men's was outside, in public" (Ibid).  Therefore, when middle class women ventured out of the house for an extended period--like an evening at the theater--"it was thought they required a private, safe, gender-segregated space of their own that looked and functioned like part of their home" (Ibid).  Ms. Wood said,

They were design like living rooms--like parlors--as spaces to protect virtue (Ibid)

The Rise and Fall of the Women's Restroom Lounge - CityLab
Ladies parlor; Inauguration week 1861
Willard Hotel, Washington D.C

Originally, the parlors did not include toilet stalls, according to Terry Kogan, a law professor at the University of Utah  Prof. Kogan has worked on gender-neutral bathroom guidelines and is an expert in the legal and cultural elements that mandate gender segregation in public restrooms.  Prof. Kogan spoke to CityLab,

Interestingly, ornate lounges for women preceded public restrooms by several decades,...

pointing out that there were parlors for women in public buildings decades before indoor plumbing became the norm in America.  Essentially, gender separation and protecting women' virtue was the original justification for parlor and the toilet stalls came later.

Boston architect Isiah Rogers was one of the key figures in creating the first public restrooms.  In 1828, Mr. Rogers was commissioned by a local businessman to design what was, for intents and purposes, the first luxury hotel in the United States, the Tremont House.  Prof. Kogen describes the challenge presented to Isiah Rogers,

The challenge to Rogers was in, prt, that he had to make this building sort supportive of commerce, which was developing in Boston,... On the other hand, he was caught in the shadow of separate-spheres ideology, and what he decided [to do] within the Tremont House was to create spaces that were sex-segregated (; Dec. 3, 2018)

The Rise and Fall of the Women's Restroom Lounge - CityLab
Gentlemen's parlor; Inauguration week 1861
Willard Hotel, Washington D.C

The result was two separate rooms created for men and women, including  a library and billiard room for men.

The Tremont House was notable for another feature, "it was the first major building in America to have indoor plumbing, with a bank of eight water closets on the main-floor hallway, each designed for a single user" (Ibid).  Isiah Rogers did not see a need to designate gender because they were intended for single users.

Plumbing and sewage technology of the period did not allow toilets to move inside in larger numbers until about the mid-19th century, and it was at that moment, some architects decided that the WCs should follow the lead of gender segregated parlors.  Thus, they placed single-user stalls in spaces that were designated for females.  For example in public libraries, they placed the single user WCs off the women' reading room.  Prof. Kogan explains,

That is, by default, a sex-designated toilet, even though it's single-user, because only women into that space... (Ibid)

By the 1860s and 1870s, plumbing technology had sufficiently progressed to the point where it could handle multi-user toilet rooms.  Then, when high end public buildings such as hotels, theaters, and department stores added multi-users, gender segregated toilets, architects continued the separate-sphere design concept, creating public spaces that resembled home.  It was at this point when the Ladies Lounge began to emerge.

Why Are There Couches in Some Women's Bathrooms? | Second floor
Typical women's restroom c.1900
E.M. Bigby showroom; Detroit, Michigan

Typical Ladies Lounges featured sofas, where presumably fragile females could rest and regroup.  Gentlemen Lounges had no equivalent space.  Although, some did have an adjacent room, more for socializing than rest.

Department stores were among the early adopters of public restrooms and ladies lounges, mainly because stores were designed to be all day experiences, where women could shop, get their hair done at the in-store salon, eat at the cafe, and rest when they needed a break.

The women's parlor at the late-Emporium in San Francisco even offered patrons reading material and stationery as well as a place to literally rest.  Elizabeth Yuko writes, "Similar impressive but no-longer-existing spaces could be found at Higbee's in Cleveland, at the Jordan Marsh Company in Boston and at the "rest rooms" at Lansburgh & Bro. department store in Washington D.C." (; Dec. 3, 2018).  In modern times, you can still find lounge-type seating adjacent to the toilet rooms in upscale department stores like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales's, and hotels like the St. Regis in New York.  Speaking from first hand experience, Yours Truly can say with absolute certainty that this is true and would add the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles,

Historian Laura Walikainen Rouleau, author of the book Private Spaces in Public Places, explains, "increasing the availability of public restrooms in the late 19th and early 20th century was the goal of the "pubic comfort" movement.  Public restrooms were often referred to as comfort stations" (Ibid).  Still are in some places.

American servicewomen chat and apply makeup in the powder room of ...
World War II military women in the powder room
New York date unknown

 By the early 20th century, more women were entering the workforce during World Wars I and II, thus the reason for the lounges and function slightly shifted.  Now that more women were entering the public sector, they needed a semi-private place to take a smoke break or apply their make up--now part of the mainstream after being stigmatized.  It was considered a breach of etiquette to apply their make up in public.  Yours Truly adheres to this rule.  Therefore, the lounges were fitted with vanities and mirrors for women to touch up (still true).

There is no one name for the room adjacent to the toilet room.  This was true then as well as now.  Ms. Walikainen Rouleau explains. "the seating areas for women were referred to as 'retiring rooms,' 'rest rooms' (as in a room specifically for resting), and even 'emergency rooms'" (Ibid).  The last term sounds strange by today's terms, "but the rooms were partly intended as places where women could lie down if they were feeling sick or faint, or even wait for medical assistance to arrive" (Ibid).  The anachronistic phrase "retiring room" avoided references to the private activities of the women--i.e. using the toilet, nursing their babies, and menstruation (Ibid).

It is important to point out that the lounges or parlors, were segregated spaces as well, not just based on gender but also race.  Ms. Walikainen Rouleau told CityLab, "...most of the examples she has found of women's lounges or parlors in public spaces have from the northern Midwestern parts of the United States" (Ibid).  She also found examples of floor plans for racially segregated standalone public-comfort stations in Texas (Ibid).  She said,

The white women's section are by far the most elaborate,... This is where the infants' room with the sink in it is,... There really are not these spaces offered for African-American women (Ibid)

The white side of the station also had separate parlors for men and women.  Laura Walikainen Rouleau said,

I believe at this time that the middle-class portion of society viewed privacy as dependent on these social constructs--that women and their bodies a and their activities needed to somehow be shielded, but especially white middle-class women (Ibid)

The Rise and Fall of the Women's Restroom Lounge - CityLab
The women's lounge at the Senator Theater
Baltimore, Maryland date unknown
Archival photo courtesy of Bob Holmes

What is the future of the ladies lounge?  Elizabeth Yuko reports, "One of the reasons why restroom lounges are now scarce is because in older building where they could once be found, they are often during renovations, converted into other types of spaces with more utility or potential for profit--such as a bar area in theater, or more retail space in a department store" (Ibid).  This was not the situation during the renovations at Baltimore's historic Senator Theater, which re-opened in 2013 after a $3.5 million makeover (Ibid).  Architect Alex Castro told CityLab, " the early stages of the project, there was was talk of whether the restroom lounges should stay, or like many others, be turned into lucrative spaces.  Ultimately, they stayed.

To get rid of them would be to get rid of one of the most important aspects of the theater itself (Ibid)

When the Senator opened in 1939, movie going was an real event.  It was not just about going to see the movie, they wanted to experience Hollywood glamour.  The Senator expressed that glamour differently in the men's and ladies' restrooms and lounges.  The men's restroom had a very club-like feel with dark woods, a tile floor, and a fireplace.  The ladies' restroom was more luxurious and bright with a make up area.  Other movie theater restroom-lounges that survived renovations include those at Radio City Music Hall, the Shoji Tabuchi Theater in Branson, Missouri, and the gilded Los Angeles Theater (; Dec. 3, 2018).

Dedicated "family rooms" (Ibid) have replaced the lounge area next to the toilet room that accommodate people who need to change their child's (children) diapers or nurse them.  Unlike their previous incarnations, they are gender neutral, a reflection of the acknowledgment of more inclusive idea of parenting.  Ms. Yuko reports, "New initiatives like Stalled aim to pave the way for all-gender multi-user restroom across America" (Ibid).

However, reports of the women's lounge demise are premature.  The trendy women's club "The Wing" has a "Personal Space" (Ibid) area that includes a changing room, a nursing room, and a somewhat outdated sounding beauty room with a row of vanities and velvet chairs that would be equally home in an Art Deco theater (Ibid).  The concept is women no longer hide out from the stresses of daily public life--the "emergency room" is no longer necessary.  As they prepare for a work presentation or get ready to meet friends, they still appreciate the touch of glamour.