For sale: 1912 comfort station; bids start at $100

Build in 1912 as a "comfort station" for commuters, this building on Columbia Road is now for sale through the city of Boston.

It sits idle, a relic of Dorchester’s days as a bustling streetcar suburb. Tucked between a weathered supply store and the olde town’s first cemetery, the Uphams Corner Comfort Station— as it was called in its days of utility— is far from comforting to the modern eyes. Boarded up since 1977, its dual entrances are sealed off from the Columbia Road sidewalk by chain-links. Just over the fence is the historic Dorchester North Burial Ground, where some of the original settlement’s founding mothers and fathers have found three-and-a-half centuries of rest.

Despite its crumbling condition, there’s still a certain charm to the tiny building with the red, terracotta roof— or what’s left of it. It was essentially a rest stop for commuters who found shelter and a “powder room” here on their way into the city.

For a limited time, it can all be yours for just $100.

The city of Boston is accepting bids for the comfort station through a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued this summer. It’s not the first time that the city-owned structure has been offered up for private development, but Sheila Dillon, the woman charged with finding a new owner for the station, thinks that it will be the last.

“The economy has improved and this is a window in time that we can move assets like the comfort station ahead,” said Dillon, who is the director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development. “There’s a lot of good things happening in Uphams Corner and the new administration is very interested in re-using these assets.”

Securing the rights to the throwback property will take more than a Ben Franklin note, of course. The comfort station is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and the state’s Historical Commission will require any new owner to preserve the “character-defining features which contribute to its architectural, archaeological, and historical integrity.”

This is no tear-down, quick-grab project. The city will also insist that the new owner re-purpose the station for a commercial use that “benefits the citizens of Boston.” Still, fourteen interested parties showed up at the first of two site visits hosted by DND last Thursday. A second viewing is planned for Oct. 24 from 10 a.m.- noon. A total of 26 people have requested a copy of the RFP through Tuesday, according to Dillon’s office.

“We’ve had a great time creating a vision with the community for the comfort station,” said Dillon, who told the Reporter that the $100 minimum bid for the property is highly unusual. Typically the city would expect potential buyers to plop down the assessed value of the site— which in this case is $86,200, according to city records.

“In this case, it’s been vacant for so very long and it requires a historic renovation. We’ve out it out numerous times before, so we really want someone who has the resources to come in.

“It is a unique but charming building. We would love to see a business there,” said Dillon.

Potential uses for the site were floated at two community meetings convened by DND over the last year. Among the ideas for the 1,200 square foot building: Use it as a headquarters for year-round farmer’s market or food co-op; an art destination; even a sit-down restaurant.

If someone does get the rights to re-use the building, the terms of the city’s contract require that they have it “development-ready” within one year. Completed proposals are due into city officials by November 12 at 4 p.m. You can download a copy at the city’s website.



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