When Oakland Cemetery opened in 1850—then known as the Atlanta Cemetery—the humble graveyard spanned just six acres.
Today, the historic site encompasses nearly 50 acres. After weathering decades of storms and erosion, many of Oakland Cemetery’s iconic fixtures across those grounds—headstones and mausoleums of notable Atlantans and relics of the Civil War—are cracked and crumbling.
In response to ongoing wear-and-tear, the Historic Oakland Foundation is constantly repairing its stock of historically significant effigies.
Later this month, a structure known as the Women’s Comfort Station, built in 1908 and abandoned for half a century, is scheduled to undergo a quarter-million-dollar update led by Atlanta-based architect Brandy Morrison.
The goal is to preserve and celebrate the restroom and refuge at the eastern border of the cemetery’s Confederate Memorial Grounds, near the Jewish Grounds.
The project will transform the tiny building into an exhibit space—what will go inside is still to be determined—adorned with many of its former age-old accents.
The Women’s Comfort Station was tapped for restoration because it is, as HOF preservation manager Ashley Shares says, “without a doubt the most deteriorated building at Oakland Cemetery.”
But that’s not the only reason.
“It also holds irreplaceable historic value,” she said. “The fact that Oakland held the first-known public comfort facilities speaks volumes to the building’s undeniable value. Additionally, it contains locally crafted materials for which patents no longer exist.”
Once the city processes the building permits, crews will begin renovating and restoring the structure, which had long offered a respite from heat and cold bearing down on Oakland Cemetery patrons.
Below is a breakdown of what’s to come with this key historical piece.
There are no color photographs depicting the comfort center’s vibrancy of yore, but HOF officials have contracted architecture firm Lord Aeck Sargent to conduct a paint analysis to help reinvigorate the old building to its former glow.
The first phase of the project will entail the restoration of the exterior, including updates to its facade, windows, and roofing.
After being beaten down by decades of rain and some fallen tree limbs, the newish temporary roof will be removed and replaced, and a “skirt roof” siding the structure will be remade in part with original shingles and some replicas by Canada-based firm Heather and Little.
Inside, most of the ceiling will need to be replaced, as squirrels have established homes there. Some of the more damaged subway tiles lining the walls will be replaced, as will the plaster above the tiles. The marble stalls wrapped around the toilets will be made anew.
HOF leaders recently discovered some early 1900s purchase orders that will help them obtain (almost) original materials.
The toilets and sink housed by the comfort center, which were installed around the 1970s, will be removed to make way for new exhibit space.
The most intensive part of the interior’s renovation will be replacing floor tiles, which were long ago installed by hand in an ornate pattern, requiring a fourth-generation tiler to reformat.
The station’s still-sturdy front door will remain and be repainted its original color, although much of the rotted doorframe will need replacing.
For the building to be suitable for public use, HOF officials have called for a new HVAC system and electrical lines, which could be a laborious process, as it entails boring into the cemetery’s existing roadways to access the utilities.
The whole $250,000 project, to be carried out by Windom Construction, is anticipated to conclude by this fall.
The HOF organization is hosting a fundraising event March 24 at the Wimbish House to help raise the $50,000 needed to carry out the project in its entirety.
It’s not the only preservation effort going on or planned for Oakland Cemetery.
The Men’s Comfort Station, for example, is a few years away from a revival of its own. Elsewhere is the ongoing repair of many cracked and crumbling tombstones and other memorials that HOF is constantly raising cash for.
Meanwhile, Georgia State and Emory university students have taken on the daunting task of 3-D mapping the entire cemetery.
Every headstone, mausoleum, and, yes, comfort center will be immortalized as an interactive, 3-D rendering, so that, even when historic fixtures succumb to the sands of time—not that HOF lets that happen much—future generations can still admire them.