Is this trivia fact true (re the Pentagon and the number of toilets)?

This evening’s freeby commuter newspaper included this among its trivia facts:

The Pentagon has twice as many toilets as required due to state segregation legislation that was in force in Virginia when it was built.

Is this true?

I’m sceptical. Even if such laws were in place, wouldn’t that simply have meant the same total number of toilets, just split between the blacks and the whites?

I’m not sure if it’s true or not but back then they wouldn’t have “split” the number of toilets. There would have been the white toilets - nice, placed in easy to access places, etc, etc. The black toilets would have been off to the side someplace and not so nice.

There’s a theatre from the 1920’s that used to be in Seattle.

To get to the “black” toilets you had to climb a small stairwell that looked more like a fire escape to the second balcony (where the black people sat). There was one seat and one sink in the mens room. This washroom had been converted to the “employee washroom”.

If you were white you’d use the regular washroom on the lower level which had 3-4 urinals, 3-4 seats and a couple of nice round sinks.

Wikipedia says the same thing:

It links out to an external site that offers the following disclaimer:

So, with 26 thousand potential occupants, is 284 restrooms twice the needed number?

Would state of Virginia law even be applied to a federal military facility?

This site lists the Jim Crow laws that were in effect in Virginia. None of the laws references appear to apply; the closest would appear to be a 1930 law that “Required segregation in every theater, movie theater, opera house or other place of public entertainment which accepts both white and colored audiences.”

Given the shape of the thing (and the legendary miles of corridor), couldit simply be a mater of scale? That given the shape and size they felt the need to add extra restrooms?


Based on the 1994 Uniform Building Code (the only one I have handy at the moment), a 6,636,360 ft[sup]2[/sup] office building (assuming only 1 occupancy class for simplicity- real world design would not make this assumption) would require fixtures for approximately 16,600 males and 16,600 females, and would require 334 fixtures (water closets and urinals) for men, and 334 water closets for women. Wiki says there are 4,900 “fixtures” in the Pentagon, so there are plenty more than the minimum required.

In reality, the number of restrooms was probably based on travel distance and/or zoning of different functions (i.e., put a bunch outside the large conference rooms, dining areas, etc., and don’t make the sailors and marines share a can with the soldiers).

I first heard this in a documentary about the building of the Pentagon. Apparently, FDR commented on the large number of bathrooms during a tour of the construction site. When told of the Virginia laws, he ordered the place desegregated on the spot.

Or so the legend goes…

Is it possibly an officers-versus-men thing? You know, like Naval officers have their own mess aboard ship? So maybe there’s a distance factor at play, plus officers having their own restrooms. Maybe somebody here has actually been to the Pentagon and could offer some testimony.

It is Federal property. The real estate is presumably Federal property also and state law may not necessarilly be applicable.

Or that having your own toliet was a true sign of your rank. When you got that many generals and admirals in one place its the perks that signify the pecking order. :wink:

Virginia laws would not need to apply. The military was keenly solicitous of white, southern sensibilites, and not at all solicitous of black sensitivities. My guess would be that the only non-white Pentagon emplyees in WWII were cleaning crews (who might be provided two facilites on each floor). More information below.

Bullshit. The army that I was in, and it’s the only one we had, was rigidly segregated by race in WWII. So was the Navy and I believe that the only non-white sailors were mess-boys, and mostly they were Philippine. My WAG would be that there weren’t any non-white marines at all.

Could it be related to having restricted/unrestricted areas in the building? You don’t want the guys with no security clearance wandering into the Super Top Secret space looking for a toilet so that requires extra lavs?

Nobody, but nobody, “wandered” accidently into a Super Top Secret space in the Pentagon.

Had a prof in a miitary history class I was in mention that the Marines in Korea had to become integrated when they were regrouping after the initial North Korean invasion because there weren’t enough Marines to keep the units segregated. IIRC, they had the choice between three full strength regiments, or four understrength ones, showing that necessity is the mother of invention (or reform, in this case). Not sure how that was reflected on a wider scale in the military though.

Well, it’s not bullshit that I saw this in a Pentagon documentary, though the truth of the statement may be questionable. And though the armed forces were segregated (and would remain so until the Truman administration) not all people who work at the Pentagon are actual members of the military. There’s a sizable maintenance, housekeeping and kitchen staff, I’m sure, in addition to all the civilians who work for the military.

Sorry if there was a misunderstanding. I wasn’t calling your account of what you saw bullshit. I meant the idea that FDR desegregated anything during WWII is nonsense. He was not about to start a big brouhaha over segregation, then the rule not only in Virginia, but also in Washington, D.C., and take a chance on hindering the war effort in any way.

Your use of the present tense indicates that you are speaking of today’s Pentagon which is as you describe. However the WWII Pentagon was an entirely different breed of cat.

Thanks for the responses. So it seems that the Pentagon may have more toilets than necessary, but probably more as a result of operational and logistical requirements than segregation requirements.

And I was off in saying that there were no black Marines in WWII. There were but only after FDR kept insisting and insisting and promising the Marines and the Navy that strict segregation by races would be adhered to. Here is a fairly extensive history of the struggle to get African-Americans into the Marine Corps in WWii.

I found this from Pentagon Staff Writer Dennis Ryan: