Have you ever had dinner in a bathroom? You have if you’ve dined at the Comfort Kitchen in Dorchester! The Upham’s Corner comfort station is a single-story stucco and clay tile Mission Revival style building constructed in 1912 as a public restroom to serve passengers using the streetcar that formerly traveled along Dorchester’s Columbia Road. Although the streetcar has long since disappeared, the Comfort Station is a rare surviving structure from an era that prioritized public amenities and thoughtful architecture. The Comfort Station’s location underscores Upham Corner’s geographic importance to Boston and exemplifies the public infrastructure important to growing and expanding American cities at the time.
After permanently closing in 1977, the building was unmaintained and fell into disrepair. In 2014, after considerable public input, the City of Boston requested proposals for the building’s reuse. Because of its small size, less than 1,000 square feet on the main floor, identifying a new use was a challenge. Ultimately, Historic Boston, Inc. partnered with Biplaw Rai, a Dorchester resident, and other partners to create a new restaurant called Comfort Kitchen. The restaurant, which functions as a cafe by day, serves global comfort food inspired by the African diaspora, and fully utilized every nook of the building including a full buildout of the basement. As much of the original fabric of the building was preserved as possible, and some elements were relocated or replaced with like materials, allowing the original character of the building to shine. The restored Comfort Station is an important contribution to the evolution of the neighborhood, providing a much-needed alternative to fast food restaurants for community gatherings. As a Black-owned, immigrant-owned, and woman-owned business enterprise, the ownership reflects the neighborhood’s composition. Historic Boston Inc’s redevelopment model transfers ownership of its completed projects to its tenants/partners after a five-year historic tax credit compliance period, which is the goal for this project. In every way, this quirky little building has been returned to its community.
“If anyone can turn a historic bathroom into a bustling restaurant, it’s HBI,” says Alison Frazee, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “The creativity in design, financing, and community partnership resulted in this special space in Upham’s Corner to once again serve the community but in a new, delicious way.”
Historic Boston, Inc.
MJ Mawn, Inc
Architectural Heritage Foundation
Boston Local Development Corporation
City of Boston, Office of Housing
City of Boston ReStore
Community Preservation Fund, City of Boston
Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp.
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation
Jane Messinger, Photographer
Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF)
Massachusetts Historical Commission
Merrimack Engineering Services
Panos Law Group
Robert Silman Associates
The 1772 Foundation
The American City Coalition
Upham’s Corner Main Street
Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin
Virginia Monadnock Neighborhood Association