Tuesday, May 16, 2000

If Genius of Water could talk

        Every once in a while, you do get a chance to start over. Take Fountain Square, for instance.

        The Tyler Davidson Fountain is brown, just as it was in the beginning. But most of us weren't there in the beginning. We were used to green — a lovely verdigris. As it turns out, besides copper carbonate deposits, the lovely green was actually a combination of wax and green dyes used to coat the bronze during its 1970 restoration. It was clogging her pores.

        Now, she looks like a million dollars — actually $2.2 million. The bronze appears buttery, soft, as if you could bury your hand in it. The water is flowing and the lighting is a marvel. You can see details of her face and the faces of the cherubs even at night.

The great room
        But what's next? Are we going to ignore this place again, except for special occasions and photo ops? Are we going to squander this new gift the second time around?

        Fountain Square has been called Cincinnati's living room. Well, it's not our living room anymore, if it ever was. It's our great room, and if we play our cards right it will be the place where people gather. At all hours.

Let's redecorate
        Now that we have the room's focal point pumping out water and looking gorgeous again, we need to redecorate. We could use more nice places to sit down. Something for the kids. Maybe a few plants. And flowers.

        Monday, an enthusiastic band, dominated by the sounds of a washboard, played “Sea of Love” as a prelude to a speech about bicycles. In the deep background, if you strained your ears, you could hear the competing a street musician across the street. “Summertime” on the sax.

        Very nice. All of it.

        But this was in broad daylight on a sunny, warm day. Judi Morress, who grew up in College Hill and Mount Healthy and who now lives in Oakley, has a 1872 print of Fountain Square. Authentic. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I think the people in the picture are wearing coats. They definitely have kids.

        “I love knowing that's what my grandma and my great-grandma saw,” says the fifth-generation Cincinnatian and veteran of the Albee and Shillito's tea room. The Albee and Shillito's may be gone, but the fountain is still here, more than merely a drive-by monument.

        We should surround it with cafes. And people, of course. Year round.

        This beautifully restored fountain was a gift intended for the pure pleasure and gratification of the citizens of Cincinnati. Although the gift came from a merchant, it was not a development engine. It was to be the centerpiece of a real town square.

        Rick Greiwe, who presides over Downtown Cincinnati Inc., promises that by the end of June, there will be an old-fashioned vending cart on the square.

        “It will be open more hours than just lunchtime,” he says. “It would be fun to have more color, some flowers and plantings to soften the surface of the plaza.”

        I think the surface of the plaza would be infinitely softer if it were full of people past 5 p.m. To get them there, I think somebody should feed them and give them something to do.

        If the Genius of Water could talk, I think she'd say, “Hey, it's early. Don't go home yet. I just got cleaned up. Do you know how long it takes to look this good? Besides, I'm starved and my feet are killing me.”

        And if we are really lucky, she some day she might say, “C'mon, let's hurry. It's getting crowded.”

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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