Fountain falling apart
Repairs could cost $1.5 million

Friday, June 12, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Tyler Davidson Fountain is falling apart, and it might cost $1.5 million to save the stately symbol of Cincinnati.

The Tyler Davidson Fountain was dedicated in 1871.
(file photo)
| ZOOM |

"It's rusting from the inside out," said Willie Carden Jr., superintendent of the city's facility management division.

According to a report obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Chicago-based architectural and planning firm is recommending the fountain undergo a $1.5 million restoration, which is part face lift, part plumbing job for the 127-year-old Fountain Square icon.

Cracks have caused deterioration in the largely bronze sculpture, as well as the fountain's structural supports and pipes, Harry Weese Associates says. The city hired the firm to examine the fountain. "The deterioration of the fountain's structural supports (in the fountain's underside or statue vault) is severe, progressive and irreversible," the firm said.
Areas in need of repair

"Failure to restore the support will inevitably result in considerable damage to the fountain and, ultimately, in collapse." That doesn't mean the fountain will topple at any moment.

"There's no need to start sounding the fire alarms," said Bill McMillan, project architect with Weese. "It's a bad situation, but it's something that happened gradually."

Restoration is necessary to prevent the fountain's collapse years down the road, Mr. Carden said.

"It was just time. If you go up to the fountain itself, you can see the cracks and the rust color, and those are just warning signs," he said.
Fountain timeline

In February, city officials put together detailed plans to renovate Fountain Square, the city's physical and sentimental center. About the same time, city officials sought a more detailed study of the fountain. Weese eventually won the bid.

The Chicago firm overhauled regal Buckingham Fountain in that city's Grant Park. The nine-month rehabilitation project cost $2.8 million and was completed in 1995.

Weese delivered its findings to Cincinnati on April 1. The roughly 100-page report included an evaluation of the structure and accompanying photos.

Among the fountain's ailments:

  • A "vault," or hollow center of the statue, is unventilated, creating a highly saturated environment, as well as condensation, corrosion of metals, deterioration of concrete and unsafe working conditions for support staff.

  • Water cannons at the base of the fountain pound on the statue's bronze, which corrodes and erodes the metal.

  • Water-supply pipes under the fountain's base leak, not only affecting the water's flow, but also damaging the parking garage below.

  • A 1970s restoration used sandpaper and wire brushes, as well as pigmented wax, which rendered the bronze surfaces incompatible with the application of a new and historically correct pewter finish.

City officials and Weese are not critical of the restoration, saying they were techniques popular at the time.

"It's a field that's evolved over time," Mr. McMillan said. "They were using commonly held techniques for that era."

In addition to structural problems, the study shows, lighting and water displays have deviated from the original historical features. In some instances, they obscure significant features and, at times, fail to display them.

For instance, figures in the fountain depict a workman standing on the roof of a burning house with an empty bucket, and a farmer and his dog waiting. In both cases, they are imploring the heavens -- more specifically the Genius of Water and her rain-producing fingertips -- for water.

"Now there are jets in front of them that confuse the story," Mr. McMillan said. "There's a relationship between the water and the statues, and it was forgotten along the way."

In recent months, city officials have been able to hammer out an exact cost for not only renovating the fountain but also the square surrounding it: $3.8 million.

The city has set aside $2.3 million to pay for repairs to the square, as well as some of the preparatory work on the fountain, such as construction and design plans, officials said.

The city has intended all along to raise the remaining funds, which would go almost solely to the fountain, through private donations, City Budget Director Bill Moller said.

"Fountain preservation has been something that private citizens have been willing to donate to in the past; in fact, the fountain itself was donated by citizens," Mr. Moller said.

Mr. Carden said the $1.5 million would have to be raised through a foundation, but he had no details Thursday.

He did say he would like to kick off fund raising in the fall. He also would like to raise enough money for future repairs.

If the money is raised, he said, the project would get under way in April 1999 and conclude in the fall.

The repairs could be completed on the square -- or the fountain could be moved to a warehouse.

Mr. Carden, like many Cincinnatians, is sentimental about the fountain and believes residents will help save it.

"The plaza, the fountain . . has grown into the living room of the city, or the living room of the region," Mr. Carden said. "When you think of the city, the Reds, the Bengals, you probably think of the fountain, too."

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