Gay Sex, Terrorism Cited as Reasons to Close Subway Station Restrooms

'Leaving a bomb in the men's room' can apparently have multiple meanings...
Last week, we wrote about the nearly decade-long closure of public bathrooms in the busiest downtown BART stations. "They're still closed because terrorists are still trying to kill people," BART spokesman Linton Johnson told us.

Transportation security expert Frannie Edwards said that having public bathrooms in mass transit stations was a "relatively new amenity," and thus one that might have to be sacrificed when it raised security issues. 

But that answer didn't pass the crowd-sourcing test. Knowledgeable SF Weekly commentors But several of our commentors David Vartanoff and Jason Bentley both noted that the New York subway system included public bathrooms when it opened more than a century ago.

In search of a definitive answer, SF Weekly consulted Clifton Hood, a historian and author of 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York. Yes, Hood confirmed: in New York's subway, bathrooms "were part of the design of the original [1904] stations. Every station had public toilets."

The real question, he wrote via e-mail, is why those bathrooms ended up closed. Although he hasn't done an in-depth analysis of the issue, Hood believes the subway's public bathrooms may have been shuttered in the 1930s or 1940s, after "a sensational murder that had gay overtones."

He's not sure whether or not toilets were closed definitively then, or whether subway authorities simply restricted access "to prevent male cruising." But crime in the 1960s would have prompted final closure of the bathrooms, he wrote, if they hadn't been closed already.

Bomb assembly or glory holes: Seems like there's always a reason why free subway toilets put the public at risk.


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