February 9, 2017

Mystery hospital device — the TravelLav

Travel-Lav compact lavatory

Travel-Lav compact lavatory, in Kaiser Permanente hospital room setting, circa 1960.

When members come to Kaiser Permanente — whether in Washington, D.C. or California - they expect to experience a brand promise of “Total Health.” The National Facilities Services department is responsible for the physical component of this task, evaluating every aspect of a building — even including the humble toilet.

Project Principal Linda Raker explains NFS’s design goals:

The emphasis is on providing an environment that helps create a warmer, hospitality experience, by contrast to the institutional environments of the past. We are especially mindful of creating what we call a 'moment of pause' in these rooms, where our members can achieve a measure of privacy away from the chaos of medical environments. The other objectives — improved lighting, individual mirrors, use of optimistic colors, etc. — are all designed to support this more positive member journey.

“Institutional environment of the past” is a kind reference to some earlier concepts that certainly weren’t focused on a private “moment of pause.”

Extensive searching through newspaper archives and online sources revealed very little about these devices.

We know that they were the brainchild of a Philadelphia inventor:

Patent #2,725,575 approved December 6, 1955

“FOLDING WATER CLOSET” by Angelo Colonna, Philadelphia, PA.

The present invention relates to certain new and useful improvements in flush-type water closets which are expressly adapted to be used in wash rooms and similar quarters of limited size on railway cars, airplanes, boats, submarines and similar conveyances and has more particular reference to a hinge mounted toilet bowl or hopper of a so-called folding construction, that is, a structural adaptation wherein the bowl, when it is not in use, is swung up and into a storage and protective compartment provided therefor in a wall cabinet.

US2953103.pdf
Detail of folding toilet in railway car patent illustration, 1960

The Travel-Lav later shows up in a railway car patent:

Patent #2,953,103 approved September 20, 1960

“COMBINATION COACH AND SLEEPING CAR” by George W. Bohannon, Oak Park, and Walter Scowcroft, Palos Heights, Ill., assignors to The Pullman Company, a corporation of Illinois.

The washbowl and water closet or toilet are preferably a combined unit sold under the trademark “Travel-Lav” manufactured by Angelo Colonna of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both the washbowl (72) and the water closet or toilet (76) fold down to a substantially horizontal position when they are to be used.

So, we at least know something about these folding water closet contraptions. These two photos imply that at one point, most likely around 1960, Kaiser Permanente installed or considered installing them in some patient rooms. But there’s no evidence that they lasted. It’s easy to imagine that the lack of privacy was a substantial deterrent to their acceptance, and that a device intended for cramped quarters — such as a submarine, or a bunker — would make less sense in a hospital.