To a passing eye, the boarded up, 30-by-30 restroom and utility building in Lafayette Square Park might not look like much.
But the structure, known as a comfort station, is part of the park’s history, and Baltimore Heritage, Inc., hopes it will also be part of the park and community’s future, said executive director Johns W. Hopkins.
The local preservation group is planning to use $99,973 in grant funding from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (MDHCD) and from Baltimore National Heritage Area to restore the building.
Hopkins said the money will be used to install a new roof, new bathrooms and new electrical utilities.
KLR Construction, LLC will be the contractor for the project, and Megan Elcrat will be the architect, Hopkins said.
The Department of Recreation and Parks owns Lafayette Square Park. But after the department restored the comfort station at Union Square about a year ago, there was not enough funding left to restore the Lafayette Square comfort station, said public information officer Whitney Clemmons Brown.
So Baltimore Heritage decided to take the restoration into their own hands after receiving right of entry authorization from Rec and Parks and grant funding from the MDHCD and the Baltimore National Heritage Area, Hopkins said.
Currently, the comfort station does not have working electricity, which Hopkins said makes it difficult for community groups to hold events in Lafayette Square Park if they require power for items like an inflatable bounce house or a PA system for a concert.
But once the comfort station has been restored, Hopkins hopes the park will be able to serve as a venue for more community events.
“We’re hoping to help bring more energy and life and activities to historic Lafayette Square,” he said.
During the Civil War, a Union army hospital and barracks stood where Lafayette Square Park is today. After the war, the property became a public park with homes built around it, Hopkins said.
In 1948, then-Mayor Theodore McKeldin commissioned identical comfort stations to be built in Lafayette and Union squares, Hopkins said.
But Hopkins said the one in Lafayette Square Park has not received substantial maintenance and has remained shuttered for about the past 20 years.
Baltimore Heritage partnered with an archaeologist 10 years ago to conduct a public archaeological dig near the comfort station, where laundry facilities were located at one time. The dig turned up some interesting items, including a lot of clothing buttons, Hopkins said.
The one-story comfort station is not particularly big or architecturally fancy, Hopkins said. But when the building gets restored, he hopes community members will have more of reasons to visit Lafayette Square.
Hopkins said that sometimes, when he is taking photos in the park, children who are playing will come up to him and share stories of how their families used to visit the park. They talk about seeing photos of their grandparents in fancy clothes in the park, or on four-wheeled roller skates near the fountain.
“Lafayette Square Park has been a real major asset and played a role in a lot of lives of families in West Baltimore,” Hopkins said. “With it being refurbished and being usable again, we’re really hoping the square itself can become a central place for activities for this generation of families living in West Baltimore.”
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