Image: falseStatement: There are public restrooms underneath the Horton Plaza Fountain, according to local urban legend.

Determination: False

Analysis: A lifelong San Diegan will regale you with stories about the downtown’s recent transformation. Neighborhoods once known for disrepair and skullduggery have become a thriving hub of tourism, nightlife and real estate.

And remodeling Horton Plaza was part of that facelift. The city helped upgrade the plaza with an infusion of redevelopment money and in 1984, permanently shut down a notorious set of underground public restrooms.

Here’s how historian Richard W. Amero described the restrooms’ disrepute in a retrospective of the plaza’s transformation:

The restrooms had deteriorated over the years. In the early 80’s gang members from Southeast San Diego behaved as if the restrooms were their exclusive turf. They ripped basins off the walls, clogged toilets, and covered walls with lurid graffiti. Non-gang members entered the restrooms at their peril for they risked being robbed, beaten, and set on fire after being doused with lighter fluid.

In response to our recent call for urban legends, readers who once used the restrooms shared similar stories of disorder and concern for safety. A police officer who patrolled downtown at the time said the restrooms were a magnet for prostitution, drug activity and occasional violent crime.

The 1985 archives of the Los Angeles Times painted another story of the restrooms’ demise:

The plaza toilets were poorly maintained, unsafe, and they had become a refuge for transients, noted Kathy Kalland, a spokeswoman for the Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment agency.

Last year, during a workshop by architect Lawrence Halprin on what to do with the plaza, 100 “pristine, well-dressed” people had toured Horton Plaza’s latrines at 10 p.m.

“It was interesting,” Kalland said, choosing her words carefully. “People were sleeping in the restrooms. The place was in disrepair. Five of the toilets had no doors on the stalls, and one man was permanently perched on the latrine. Permanently–because people in other tours mentioned him too.”

Ultimately, the city demolished the restrooms since the upgraded plaza needed new underground piping through the area, the Times reported.

We’ve called this urban legend false because subterranean restrooms no longer exist. The actual site was just southwest, below the sidewalk.

We’re busy looking into other San Diego urban legends. Help us track them down.

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