Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The humble, but, oh so important, theater urinal

By David Owens
One very important aspect of vintage theaters that is often overlooked is the usefulness of the restrooms.  On a recent tour of the Holly Theatre in Medford, Oregon, under restoration,  this became shockingly clear.

As I descended the steps to the Men's Room I was greeted with a confusing view that took a moment to comprehend.  A porcelain buttress protruded into the room that was vaguely familiar, yet foreign. 

A two-sided urinal at the 1930 Holly Theatre
There was a urinal facing me, but wait, it is not flush to the wall, it is at an angle. And just around the 4' privacy buttress there is a second urinal. But just one drain and one flush pipe.

Wow, those 1930 geniuses of space saving design, two urinals in the space of one!  I am surprised I have not seen something similar at IKEA for small spaces! 

Upon reflection, this is a novelty that works best when the room is not crowded.  First, you have to make a choice - Do I take the left stall or the right stall?  The left faces the entrance so I can greet incoming guests, the right faces the wall so they surprise me from behind.  Neither option makes me particularly comfortable.

This brings a new understanding of the term "pissing contest."  If two men enter at the same time they can face off and have a rousing critique of the movie they are watching. Or perhaps, check-to-cheek they will experience an uncomfortable bladder lock and it truly is a contest to see who can concentrate and finish first!

Maybe this worked well in 1930, but since I have only seen one other example of this anywhere, perhaps not.  The fix is simple, put a privacy shield on top of the urinal perpendicular to the wall that avoids that awkward eye contact during personal business.

Others have tried to save space at the men's room, and it is not easy to redefine personal space. This placement is just too cozy.

Lest anyone wonder, the men's urinals at the 1946 Azteca Theater  are separate and customers face the wall.  Boring as it may be, given the alternatives, we are grateful.

Azteca Theater men's urinals- thankfully boring.

But let's not write of the novelty urinal of 1930.  In forward-looking and progressive Amsterdam they are not to be outdone.  Why stop at double urinals when you can have four-sided urinals. And why put them in a room when it is so much more liberating to do your business in public? 

We have all seen uncouth persons relieving themselves conspicuously on city streets. Why not turn this into a cool happening that all will want to participate in?

Public urinals in Amsterdam

But the best solution of all to avoid the awkward silence staring at the wall over the urinal is to face off with a pleasant stranger who neither looks down or tries to make nerrvous conversation.

Wait a minute, these figures are watching!  Well, perhaps with a sense of humor there will be no more nervousness and men can happily  go with the flow.

Urinals at an Australian rail station.