When the three million annual Freedom Trail walkers leave Faneuil Hall and enter the North End, little do they realize they have to traverse the entire neighborhood and over to the Charlestown Navy Yard to reach the next public restroom. Unfortunately, that is the current situation along the North End Freedom Trail since the Hull Street visitor center has been closed.
Here is the typical story: Leaving Faneuil Hall, Mommy asks little Johnny if he has to “go.” He says no. Ten minutes later, Johnny is crying that he has to go NOW! So, Mom starts looking around for a public restroom. How about the Rose Kennedy Greenway? Boston’s newest park must have public restrooms, right? She finds mobile food carts, but no restrooms. Mommy scowls at the Greenway planners.
Mommy and Johnny continue on the Freedom Trail into the North End. She finds the site of the old Prado (Paul Revere Mall) restrooms, but they were converted to music studios. Mom heads to the Paul Revere House and the Old North Church thinking that such historic destinations might offer some reprieve. Unfortunately, the scrappy non-profits have neither the space nor the money. Then someone tells her they remember seeing signs for public restrooms on Hull St. between the Old North Church and Copp’s Hill Cemetery. Unfortunately, Mommy is a year too late as the Hull St. restrooms were recently cut from the State’s budget. Poor Mommy and Johnny are in serious trouble.
The public restrooms at 9 Hull St. accommodated over 800 patrons on a typical summer day. After eight years of operation, they are now locked and closed due to State funding cuts. In tight times, cuts in tourism budgets are not a surprise and certainly easier than cutting libraries or public works.
The Hull St. restrooms were nothing special, simply practical, with a sandwich board on the sidewalk welcoming tourists and some paper signs on the door directing people inside. The location is behind Villa Michelangelo, a building developed by the East Boston Development Association. The restrooms were part of the development deal for the complex that received HUD money. The developer ran them for a couple of years but the responsibility was eventually turned over to the State’s tourism agencies.
Former Speaker of the House and North Ender, Sal DiMasi, knew this was a problem years ago when he earmarked $50,000 to staff and maintain the Hull St. restrooms. The facility was open for eight years. With the powerful DiMasi out of office and nearly all earmarks cut from the State budget, the summer of 2010 was the first in recent memory without any public bathrooms in the North End.
Current State Representative Aaron Michlewitz points out that “tourism earmarks were cut entirely to zero. The economy does not provide much of an opportunity in the State budget to bring back funding right now.”
Some of the slack has been taken up by private establishments. Most will accommodate emergencies although many have “restrooms for customers only.” Some residents tell stories of taking pity on desperate families and letting them into their homes. Worse than that, many neighborhood alleys have become urination zones.
Maintenance at the Hull St. location was helped by a joint effort between the Paul Revere House and Old North Church that would stock toilet paper, soap, etc. as in-kind donations. Even with the assistance from the historic sites, however, the staffing, maintenance and cleaning still cost $50,000 per year. Neither of these historic destinations currently have public restrooms on location. The proposed expansion of the Paul Revere House includes restrooms, but those will primarily be for their own visitors which pay a $3.50 admission.
Of course, locals know where to find the public restrooms in the neighborhood. There is the 25 cent, city operated “Wall” restroom by the bocce courts in Langone Park. If you are walking the Harborwalk, the new Fairmont Battery Wharf has public restrooms (downstairs from the hotel lobby). The Long Wharf Marriott also has public facilities, up the escalators past the gift shop. And most recently, there is another 25 cent bathroom installed last year in on Long Wharf (See “No Rush to Flush on Long Wharf”).
Most of the locations listed above are on the waterfront side of the North End, nowhere near the Freedom Trail. As for the Hull St. restrooms, the primary issue is how to fund public restrooms used by over 200,000 visitors per year.
Some neighborhood residents have started tossing around ideas. Alex Goldfeld, local historian and President of the North End Historical Society, believes the space could be “effective as a Visitor’s Center where brochures and maps could be made available. Neighborhood businesses might be interested in advertising at the facility.” Resident Tom Schiavoni suggested that, “a donation might be requested upon entry or an ATM machine could be installed.”
Similar to the city-operated facilities, a nominal 25-50 cents could be charged for those using the restrooms. Charging a fee would probably reduce the volume of users and revenues would not likely cover the expenses. Some residents have suggested a neighborhood fund-raising campaign or private/public partnerships. To date, none of these ideas have made much progress.
Ironically, during the first year without a public restroom on the North End Freedom Trail, the number of tourists is near record levels. With the opening of the Greenway, the expansion of historic destinations, more shops and restaurants, the number of visitors will only increase in the years ahead.
The question is, how long will Mommy and Johnny have to wait?