- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The dozen toilets disappeared decades ago.

The Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/25No37d ) reports that the shoeshine booth is long gone, too, along with the cigar stand, the urinals, the men who used them and any real need for a highway rest area in downtown Lincoln.

But what remains on the outside still looks much like it did in 1925, when the grandest rest stop between Denver and Detroit opened near Ninth and O.

Still the same smooth limestone and neoclassical design like its big brother, the former federal building. Still the same Roman-style ironwork on the windows. Which, if you were tall enough to look through, would reveal a modern apartment.

The men’s-only Municipal Comfort Station has been updated with wood floors, pendant lighting, a spacious front room, kitchen, single-stall bathroom and a space suitable for a bedroom or office.

A 1,287-square-foot piece of Lincoln’s past, repurposed. And for the first time in years, it’s for rent: $2,150 a month, plus utilities.

Owner Monte Froehlich is pitching its prime location and the views from the rooftop deck he put on two years ago. It’s an ideal spot for a business owner or residential renter, and he has interest from both, he said.

The next tenant will also inherit a history that dates to the advent of cross-country auto tours.

“When it was put up, highway travel was pretty much in its infancy, so providing conveniences was a new idea,” said Ed Zimmer, historic preservation planner for the City-County Planning Department.

The city built the comfort station on the southwest corner of Government Square, the block between O and P and Ninth and 10th that also included City Hall and the federal building — all of it now on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was designed by architect Fritz Craig, who went on to help build much of Lincoln, including many of the Greek houses on campus and mansions on Sheridan Boulevard, Holmes Elementary School, Trinity Lutheran and Blessed Sacrament.

His rest area’s opening in May 1925 made the newspaper, which praised its amenities but also seemed to argue against any perception a public bathroom was a waste of tax dollars.

On the one hand, it was said “to be one of the most modern stations of the sort” on the Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway. It had a complete, electric ventilation system and “the plumbing fixtures are the best,” the newspaper reported.

On the other, although it cost $22,000, operating expenses weren’t expected to exceed $225 a month (including the $100 and $110 monthly pay of the two janitors), the water department would be reimbursed and the city stood to collect revenue from the cigar and shoeshine stands.

More history there, too.

An early shoeshine operator was Trago T. McWilliams, a longtime pastor at Christ Temple Mission Church and a pillar in Lincoln’s early African-American community, Zimmer said. The pastor’s own home on 29th Street is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

The rest station had a dozen toilets in its center, urinals along the north and south walls and, because of what went on inside, high windows. Women used City Hall’s facilities next door.

The station was open for at least three decades, but as interstate highways started changing how America traveled, a downtown rest stop wasn’t as convenient.

The city closed it in the 1950s, clearing out the fixtures to make room for its carpentry shop. A developer bought it in the early 2000s and turned it into an apartment.

And when Froehlich acquired the property in 2007, his company pulled up the carpet, laid a wood floor and exposed the original decorative tile threshold — the only surviving interior design hinting at the building’s original use.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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