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.

Recent Posts
Why Even The Temporary Privatization of Public Space Is Too Much

Why Even The Temporary Privatization of Public Space Is Too Much

April 29, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Preserving public space from the call of privatism, remembering the racial tensions of 1918, Independence National Historic Park sees increase in visitors and revenues, Land Bank moves its first parcels, and Councilman getting serious about Open Streets > more

More Time Needed For Zoning Board Consideration Of Blatstein’s Broad & Washington Proposal

More Time Needed For Zoning Board Consideration Of Blatstein’s Broad & Washington Proposal

April 28, 2016  |  Morning Blend

ZBA asks for two weeks to digest project’s “excessive information,” why the 30th Street Station rail yards might be (almost) completely capped after all, Mantua residents to consider rezoning and gentrification issues, and a call for selective painted bike lanes > more

Reaction To 19th Street Baptist Demo Scare Points Up Changing Sensitivity At L&I

Reaction To 19th Street Baptist Demo Scare Points Up Changing Sensitivity At L&I

April 28, 2016  |  News

A demolition notice mistakenly placed on the doors of 19th Street Baptist Church in Point Breeze sent the preservation and planning community in hot pursuit of answers this week. Michael Bixler reports > more

DNC 2016 The Latest For

DNC 2016 The Latest For “Convention City”

April 27, 2016  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

As the city gears up for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in July, Harry K. gives us a whirlwind tour of Philadelphia political conventions > more

Valet Parking Lot Imagined As Interim Use On Market

Valet Parking Lot Imagined As Interim Use On Market

April 26, 2016  |  Morning Blend

More surface parking coming to Market Street, a look at the winning designs of the Play Space Competition, and baseball mural coming to MLB’s Urban Youth Academy > more

State And City Plan Ahead In Historic Preservation Efforts During Natural Disaster

State And City Plan Ahead In Historic Preservation Efforts During Natural Disaster

April 25, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Historic structures to be attended to in case of natural disaster, filming at Holmesburg prison, and Parks and Rec forgoes upkeep of Northwest golf course > more