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One Lavish Lavatory

West Covina gas station offers regular fuel but a supreme restroom worthy of a glitzy Vegas hotel. Patrons rave after a view of the loo.

March 16, 2005|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The king of the luxury loo rules his regal realm with a benevolent hand.

Anybody can ascend Paul Moghadan's throne -- provided they are there to do business.

"Restroom for gas customers only," reads the sign outside the opulent, public powder room at Moghadan's Chevron station in West Covina.

In an era when many service stations can barely keep their restrooms open, much less clean, Moghadan's is a sight for sore eyes, not to mention bursting bladders.

A chandelier sparkles overhead from a recessed ceiling. Sculptured art and a floral arrangement adorn faux tumbled rosa marble walls. Ornate silver columns rise from the Italianate slate floor to support a wide granite counter and reach to a soffit that hides a pair of recessed spotlights. Gold-plated fixtures are attached to a graceful oval sink.

Amid the opulence, one barely notices the standard-issue toilet in the corner.

Of course, that's all customers are looking for when they hurry in. But they emerge marveling at the 10-foot-wide room.

"It's the best restroom I've ever seen," said West Covina motorist Jose Montes. "You feel like you're rich when you're in there."

Station employee Cathy Vasquez said the "Wow!" factor was a daily occurrence.

"People come out saying they've never seen anything like it," she said. "Once, though, a 5-year-old girl was scared of our bathroom. Her mother had to escort her in."

It's not surprising that the restroom is met with disbelief.

Gas station restrooms are notorious for their stench, grimy walls and fixtures, and "out of order" signs taped to the doors.

In California, maintenance of restrooms is up to gas station operators. State laws require only that stations built after 1990 near busy roadways include "clean and sanitary" public restrooms accessible to the disabled.

But even restroom-maintenance experts try to avoid them. An international survey of cleaning industry professionals in 2003 revealed that 36% of them considered service station restrooms "unclean and unsanitary."

Elizabeth Harryman, travel editor for the Automobile Club of Southern California's Westways magazine, said she'd seen some "grisly" restrooms from Rancho Cucamonga to Katmandu. She said she even traveled with extra Kleenex and moist towelettes for times when restrooms were out of toilet paper.

"It's such a treat, a blessing, to find a bathroom that is clean and well-supplied," she said. "Coming across one like his would make my day, make my trip. It makes you feel like there's hope for America when people take that much pride in their restroom."

Moghadan went to work on his grand bathroom 13 years ago, hoping to make a statement.

"I wanted to give the restroom the greatest look I could. I wanted to show how much I respect my customers," Moghadan said. "I started with Chevron in 1966, and they trained us back then that the No. 1 priority was the station bathroom. They stressed we should keep it clean and papered up."

He spent $5,000 extra on his unisex restroom as part of a larger remodeling of his station and mini-mart, just north of the San Bernardino Freeway on Vincent Avenue.

Moghadan, 55, of San Dimas, decided to go beyond the basics. He asked his brother, architectural designer Nassar Moghadan of Hemet, to concoct something that motorists wouldn't forget.

Their creation is definitely a step above your average gas station restroom -- some might say a little over the top. The walls are drenched in rich earth tones and blue stone tiles, giving the room a vaguely Tuscan -- or maybe Vegas -- feel. Although a few other gas stations have tried to class up their lavatories, Harryman and others said such creations were still highly unusual.

Over the last dozen years, Moghadan said, he has averaged 20 compliments a day about his facilities. "I have customers from Palm Springs and Las Vegas who make a point of stopping here. Some even bring in relatives to show them the bathroom," he said.

Moghadan said such customer appreciation helped limit restroom vandalism and careless use -- the bane of most gas station operators. His employees take special pains to keep the place spotless and fully stocked with toilet paper. Even though the restroom is inside the mini-mart, it remains locked, and employees give the key only to paying customers.

Despite his busy location, Moghadan has only had to replace an 8-foot mirror twice.

And he is convinced that his plush powder room has helped pump up profits.

A fancy toilette, he says, is good for the bottom line.

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