Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Our fountain will be freed in spring

        The Genius of Water is behind bars. She'll be sprung from her cage on Opening Day.

        Until then, the Genius and all of the other bronze figures on the Tyler Davidson Fountain will spend the long, cold winter surrounded by a black iron fence.

        This fence, I'm told, is for our own good. It offers the best design to protect us and the fountain.

[photo] The iron fence around the fountain is to keep people from hurting themselves and the fountain while the water's turned off during the winter.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        But that doesn't make the 30-inch-tall band of black rods and rails ringing the fountain's lower basin any easier to take. Good fences may make good neighbors. But I'm not too sure how fenced-in landmarks fit into the equation.

        The fence cost $18,000. As the city's most recognizable landmark, the Tyler Davidson Fountain is priceless.

        The price difference shows. The fountain is or nate. The fence is unadorned. The fountain is beautiful. The fence isn't.

        Although it made history, the fence went up last week without fanfare. Except for repairs, the fountain had never been fenced in. Now, for the first time in its 130 years, the city's symbol is fenced off from the public.

        Nosy by nature and by trade, I had to find out about the fence. Call me Curious Cliff.

        Call me a literalist, too. I take seriously the dedication, “To The People Of Cincinnati,” on the bronze medallion at the feet of the Genius of Water statue. The fountain belongs to us.

        Henry Probasco paid for the fountain named for his late brother-in-law and given to the people of the Queen City in 1871. Last year, $3 million in private donations, both large and small, saved and restored the city's grand monument to civic pride.

        The fountain's ours. So I figured I had a right to know about the fence around it. I spoke with city officials as well as restoration experts who worked on the fountain. This is what I discovered:

        The fence is not permanent. Before the fountain's water goes on for the Reds' April 2 Opening Day parade, down comes the fence.

        The $18,000 came from city funds, our tax dollars, not the $2 million raised to restore the fountain or the $1 million donated to establish a maintenance endowment.

        Planned during last year's renovation, the fence goes up only during the winter “to keep people from hurting themselves and the fountain,” said Kevin Shepard, the city's director of general services.

        In past winters, the fountain was protected by a temporary framework of decorative lights. Those lights have been replaced by a permanent display in the lower basin. Big, 300-watt bulbs sit among electrical conduits, tubing and water cannons.

        In the summer, that equipment is under water. In the winter, the basin is dry. Someone could get hurt if they fell in, broke a bulb or stepped on a water cannon.

        The fence is supposed to be plain. The designer, Ronan Kirwan, of Kirwan Industries in the West End, told me he did not want the fence “to get in the way of the beauty of the fountain.”

        Instead of using bronze to match the fountain, he chose iron. “Bronze would look like it's part of the fountain, like it's permanent. I don't want anyone getting that notion.”

        Now I feel somewhat better.

        The fountain represents the heart of Cincinnati. In a city that says “no” too often, this very public work of art always whispers “yes” to a good time.

        On warm days, Cincinnatians and out-of-towners alike visit the landmark. They dip their hands in the water, feel cooled by the fountain's mist and happily pose for snapshots. If the wintertime fence helps preserve those activities, then it will have done its job.

        But first, spring must come and the fence must go. One more reason to long for Opening Day.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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