Gods of Water

 

Swann Memorial Fountain | Photo: Peter Woodall

Perhaps lost in the coming spectacle of the Barnes on Parkway: the rather stunning reemergence of fountains as objects of wonder in the public landscape, particularly along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Has any city sought such delight (and the affirmation of engineering) in reflecting pools, jets, mist, tumbling water, and spray since the creation of the gardens of Babylon in the first or second century BCE?

This week will see the opening of three new water elements on the Parkway–the Wissahickon-inspired naturalistic waterfall and children’s pond at Sister Cities Plaza, a fountain on the south end of the plaza representing Philadelphia in relation to its various sister cities, and the reflecting pool at the main entrance garden of the Barnes–and the reemergence of the neo-classical fountain and pool at the newly refurbished patio of the Rodin. These fountains will be joined by sculptor Janet Echelman’s sculptural fountain and ice skating rink at Dilworth Plaza.

Photo: Peter Woodall

Thus, a walker–perhaps a swimmer!–heading from City Hall to the Water Works will encounter this new Dilworth Plaza water sculpture, the masculine jet of Love Park (notwithstanding the planned renovation of that space), the fountain and waterfall/pond at Sister Cities, the Swann Memorial Fountain with its metaphoric embrace of the city’s three main waterways, the reflecting pools of the Barnes and the Rodin, sculptor Rudolph Siemering’s Washington Monument with its cascade fountain, the two neo-classical fountains on either side (in honor of civic visionary Eli Kirk Price and Swedish captain John Ericsson), the fountain at the center of the piazza at the top of the Art Museum steps, and two refurbished fountains in the cliffside garden next to the Water Works.

Landscape architect Bryan Hanes, designer of much of this restored landscape, reminded me that the tumbling fountains that straddle the Art Museum steps have been off for several years (he is trying to find out why). Likewise, the lovely Fountain of the Seahorses (a gift of the Italian government to Philadelphia in honor of the Sesquicentennial of America) below the west entrance to the Museum, has been out of commission for a few years (it now appears to be under renovation).

All told, that’s 15 fountains for our pleasure in about 15 blocks, a veritable romance of the urban idyl spilling out from the center of the city to the lissome shore of our most seductive river.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



5 Comments


  1. Thats excellent to hear! I am really excited to see more interest being generated in these fountains. I myself have often wondered why the fountains along side the art museum stairs are not running, its a shame since they could really change the whole mood of that area.

  2. Fifteen fountains and pools are very well and good for your viewing pleasure ONLY.
    As I’ve found out the hard way, many strictly prohibit human indulgence
    on even the steamiest Philly summer days. In the 95 degree heat, can’t we get a break?

  3. Love to see the water-falls on either side of the Art Museum stairs turned on again. I know kids like them in the summer-time, but so what. Maybe the city needs a water-park and a skate-park).

  4. I don’t think the fountains along the art museum steps have functioned in the almost 10 years I’ve been here. I would LOVE to know why, and how much it would cost to fix. Seems like a great fundraising campaign to restore the fountains.

  5. I think there was a lot of talk about the art museum fountains being too deep and a liability. That said, if that is the issue, they could be redesigned where smaller fountains are surrounded by landscaped areas within the original fountain footprint. I would really like to see the two fountains on Kelly Drive redfurbished too. Perhaps a corporate sponsor such as Comcast will be willing to adopt the fountains.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

 

Recent Posts
Reading The Economic Tea Leaves As The Delaware Deepens

Reading The Economic Tea Leaves As The Delaware Deepens

May 23, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Some caveats for the port boosters, Shurs Lane factory unveiled as rental units, and Philly to slip in population ranking > more

Brooding Drueding on the Cusp

Brooding Drueding on the Cusp

May 23, 2016  |  The Shadow Knows

For decades, a contiguous eight-and-ten-story complex has loomed over Fifth & Master, a behemoth reminder of the loss of industry. But! The Shadow sees light at the end of the tunnel for the Drueding Brothers building, a.k.a. the Umbrella Factory > more

Good, Bad, and Ugly: A Survey of Fishtown's New Construction

Good, Bad, and Ugly: A Survey of Fishtown’s New Construction

May 20, 2016  |  Vantage

As Fishtown struggles to keep up with its own renown, developers have likewise tried to keep up with housing demand. Frankford Avenue alone looks drastically different than it did just five years ago, and on streets big and small throughout the neighborhood, new homes have sprouted like weeds. With the fourth and final installment of Fishtown Week, we survey the new housing that has grown—and continues to grow—the neighborhood > more

Fishtown Adaptation

Fishtown Adaptation

May 19, 2016  |  Vantage

While demolitions have been plenty and new constructions have been many, Fishtown has an all-star list of old buildings breathing invigorated new life. Day 3 of Fishtown Week looks at the neighborhood's best examples of adaptive reuse > more

Excavating The American Revolution

Excavating The American Revolution

May 19, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Sifting through colonial privies, Planning Commission okays Sharswood PHA HQ plans, $30 million in upgrades coming to PHL, talking the history of Chinatown, and breaking the rules of historic house museum presentation > more

Historic Fishtown, Tier 2

Historic Fishtown, Tier 2

May 18, 2016  |  Vantage

Despite its colonial origins and an abundance of buildings dating to the 1800s, Fishtown has little protected by way of historic designation. Part 2 of Fishtown Week looks at historic buildings not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, some of which are on the National Register > more