Potty like there’s no tomorrow
Thursday January 17th 2019, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

And on a completely random note, I have a question: did any of you grow up with a Pittsburgh Potty? I didn’t even know there was a name for such a thing, much less that anybody else had one. The house I grew up in had one and it was the weirdest thing. How could you have that and not a sink for washing your hands afterwards? Did the builder’s mother know they got away with that? I think each of us kids clandestinely used it at least once just to prove it really worked (I remember asking Mom first if it did, but I didn’t tell her why I was asking. BYOTP.)

It was inside a built-in bomb shelter in the basement, and I always figured it was part of that particular Cold War trend. Since there were no walls around it, just that big empty room with cinder block walls built into the hillside and always cold in there, it was a good place for storing food and Mom and Dad put shelving in front of the thing and cans and jars to give it everything but a door behind there.

That room had its own part-walled-off hallway to get in, a faint attempt at a maze, to help protect you from, I dunno, nuclear fallout?

Here’s the link to what I’m talking about.

The potty part, anyway. There was actually a reason for them. Who knew?

7 Comments so far
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We had a toilet in our basement when I was growing up. It was surrounded by wood, like an outhouse – you could even see through the cracks between the boards! The tank was up above, and it had a pull chain. It was on the same wall as the washer and laundry sink. We didn’t use it much, but it was there. This was in The Chicago suburbs and the house was probably built in the 1920’s.

Comment by Anne 01.18.19 @ 2:17 am

Hmm, interesting! I grew up in a Queen Anne Victorian, and there was a toilet in the basement, but it was in its own little room, not out in the open. I think there was a sink with it, but I’m not sure; it was pretty creepy, so we never used it! I’ll have to ask my mother if she remembers about the sink.

Comment by ccr in MA 01.18.19 @ 7:19 am

We never had one because we had septic tanks and cesspools. We had a sump pump that pumped the washer water UP to the septic tank. After the sewers were put in, they were down far enough that we could have a basement bathroom.

Comment by Sherry in Idaho 01.18.19 @ 9:22 am

My house, and the two next door in Alameda, CA had basement potties just like the article describes. Mine was in a tiny closet, with no sink. And my neighbor’s backed up and overflowed when the city sewer backed up. Luckily, mine did not. My neighbors had carpeted their basement to create a family room… It makes so much more sense now! The houses were built in the 1920’s. I have also seen these in some Portland basements.

Comment by Susan S 01.18.19 @ 12:45 pm

Ours was not a Pittsburgh potty. We built our house during the height of the Cold War, when everyone was building shelters in their back yards. Our builder made a bigger hole under the front walkway for a bomb shelter. And there was a cold water sink. When people were spending $1,000s for shelters, ours cost $100. And it made a lovely storage room. Yes, the baffle wall in front was for fallout. Mom

Comment by mom 01.19.19 @ 10:49 am

Hah! You have solved a question I have had for years. In 2008, we looked at some houses for sale…outside of NYC. One gorgeous Victorian, absolutely falling apart, wrap around porch, two sets of stairs, two parlours, huge kitchen, root cellar, the whole nine yards…including the house’s original blueprints sitting on the dining room table… was so amazing that my architect father in law put in an offer on the spot. (He did not get the house,) it had a toilet in the basement. It was enclosed, barely, with a door with a window in it!! I was horrified, did the maid have to go there?! It turned out,only 11 years later, that I now have the answer to why it was there. Thank you!

Comment by Joanne 01.19.19 @ 8:12 pm

There was one in the place I rented in Victorian Village Columbus! (BTW, using former BT email which didn’t allow you to reply to comment in the past.)

Comment by LynnM 01.21.19 @ 2:41 am

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