“If the modest structure resembles a tool shed that emigrated from 16th century England, well, the comfort station may have been built in 1927 as a comfort station, or public restroom, one of many on the West Side of Chicago in the late-trolley era, but for decades it was a tool shed.
“More recently, in pre-COVID times, the demi-cottage and surrounding, shady lawn area has routinely hosted between 150 and 200 events a year: concerts, art exhibits, photography exhibits, puppet shows — the brilliant Manual Cinema folks performed there — and larpers.
“Comfort Station sits just across Milwaukee Avenue from the Illinois Centennial Monument. That one’s known in our family as ‘the eagle statue,’ designed by Henry Bacon of Lincoln Memorial fame.
“‘Small but mighty’ is how Logan Square Preservation president Andrew Schneider refers to Comfort Station, which is gradually reopening its indoor activities for business. ‘It’s a unique intersection of activities,’ he says.
“In literal terms, that intersection and its surroundings are about to undergo a massive, 18-month (maybe longer; you know how things go) traffic-rerouting project. Inevitably, change is coming to this corner of Logan Square, a lot of it, one hopes, for the better — the greener, the safer — and maybe some of it not.
“Long-gestating plans to reroute the roundabout circling (or ovaling) the square will eventually divert Milwaukee around it, rather than Milwaukee running through it. The Centennial Monument area and the smaller Comfort Station parcel will become one big space. Work is expected to begin this fall, to be completed in early- or mid-2023.
“Who runs what in this corner of the world? A lot of folks. The city manages the Logan Square boulevard system, where Comfort Station resides. Logan Square Preservation, a nonprofit outfit, holds the lease on the building and served as primary advocates in a successful effort to secure landmark status for the building in 2004.
“‘The idea of a publicly owned building operated by a grassroots cultural organization — I can’t really think of another quite like it,’ says Comfort Station director Jordan Martins. ‘The city owns it, but somehow this motley crew of weirdos got their hands on it.’
“Some history. In January 1926, the West Chicago Parks Commission announced plans to build 17 ‘public comfort stations’ (cost: $6,000 apiece; 17 later became nine) on the city’s West Side, each around 700 square feet, done up in Tudor-style trim. Utilitarian stuff. Nothing big. They were meant to give folks waiting for a trolley a place to get out of the rain, or the snow, and buy some smokes. And use the restrooms.
“A Jan. 16, 1926 Chicago Daily Tribune story mistakenly left one of the originally planned 17 off its list: That one, presumably, was the one in Columbus Park, just north of Eisenhower Expressway on Austin Boulevard. And that’s the only surviving Chicago comfort station besides Logan Square’s, though the Columbus Park structure has been dormant for decades.
“The comfortstationlogansquare.org website notes that the trolley era was quickly replaced by the revenge of the autos. By 1940 the Logan Square Comfort Station, where Milwaukee crosses Logan Boulevard, was listed as ‘vacant’ and eventually became a lawn mower and tool shed. Over the years it avoided demolition many times, just as Logan Square redevelopment managed to avoid some of the city’s worst-laid plans. (Take a look at the 1970 Logan Square redevelopment proposal sometime, and weep: It’s all concrete and no life.)
“It’s a repurposed neighborhood asset most neighborhoods don’t have, and probably wouldn’t think twice about, given everything most neighborhoods face these days. (Phillips, Chicago Tribune, 7/14/21)
Today, it seems inevitable that Logan Square Comfort Station is a thriving, vibrant, cherished local creative arts institution. But if not for the dogged determination of Logan Square Preservation and preservation partners, this building would still be a shed for lawnmowers or more likely, demolished and replaced by a patch of grass.