Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

Art In An Unlikely Place: An Ocean Beach Public Bathroom

Art In An Ocean Beach Restroom

It may not be the Sistine Chapel, but there's art on the ceiling of a new public restroom in Ocean Beach.

It's actually called a "comfort station."

Art In An Unlikely Place: An Ocean Beach Public Bathroom
A long-awaited public restroom opens on Ocean Beach, complete with a ceiling of art.

"That's a fancy name for a public restroom," says architect Kevin DeFreitas. He was hired by the city of San Diego to design a much-needed, long-awaited bathroom on a stretch of beach located at the intersection of Brighton Avenue and Spray Street.

There hasn't been a bathroom there for over 2 years, forcing visitors to make due with ten porta potties (let's face it, those things are everyone's nightmare).

DeFreitas approached the gig with more aesthetic intent than one might expect for a public bathroom.

One of the signature design elements is the structure's winged roof, modeled after the ubiquitous OB stickers featuring a seagull in flight. The roof is elevated to allow natural ventilation.

And then there's the art.

In 2009, the city commissioned San Diego artistShinpei Takeda to create a piece for the restroom. DeFreitas and Takeda decided to make use of the ceiling. "We thought it was the one surface that was least likely to get peed on," admits DeFreitas.

Takeda covered the 1700sq foot ceiling surface with the same material used for bus and car wraps. The digitally-created image is called "My Memory On Top Of Your Memory. "

Swirls of blue and orange mingle with overlapping circles of text. Takeda says he was inspired by the ripple effect after a stone is dropped into water.

Some of the streets in OB are named after writers and historians. Their words inspired Takeda's text circles in the men's bathroom.

For the women's, he culled text from stories about OB published during the last ten years. The idea was for the distant and more recent past to crash together in present day Ocean Beach.

Takeda says the words themselves aren't meant to be taken literally. The merging text circles quickly get hard to read, which Takeda says is the point. "I want people to get lost and confused. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to get lost. Ocean Beach taught me that."

Takeda currently calls Tijuana home, but he spent 5 years living just blocks from the new bathroom. He started a non-profit art organization in his OB apartment. The AjA Project provides photography-based programming to youth affected by war and displacement. Takeda says he wanted to honor the OB community that inspired him to imagine and create.

After fifteen minutes with Takeda, it becomes apparent he sees art in the unlikeliest of places. When I asked him how he feels about making art for a bathroom, he shrugs and laughs. "When you do your business in the bathroom to me it’s a sacred moment. You’re letting go of something, so it’s another interesting space for art viewing."

DeFreitas says Takeda's piece is ideal because it responds to the history and culture of OB, something he worked to achieve in the building's design. DeFreitas and his team held meetings with the community to gather their input.

The result is a solar powered restroom built out of sustainable materials. It even has bike racks, since the most popular OB-modes of transportation are on foot, skateboard or bike. There are three showers of varying sizes for surfers and beach-goers.

One kink still to be worked out is the building's overnight security. OB public bathrooms, past and present, tend to get defaced and trashed before sunrise. DeFreitas says the city doesn't have the manpower to send a staffer to lock and unlock the facility every day. Handing keys over to neighborhood volunteers is one solution under consideration.

Ocean Beach gets over one million visitors a year so the bathroom will serve a broad population.

DeFreitas, who lives in Ocean Beach, chuckles, "I think, ironically, this building may be the most visited structure I have in my portfolio."

San Diego photographer Tim Mantoani shot the time lapse video above. KPBS interviewed Mantoani earlier this year about his new book documenting famous photographers.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article said some of the OB streets are named after authors and philosophers. That was changed to "writers and historians." We apologize for the mistake.