The great water war of California Avenue?
Original post made by Jay Thorwaldson on May 30, 2008
That is whether to save a middling-old fountain or replace it with a blockish sculpture by famous sculptor Bruce Beasley. The sculpture would be dry unless some funds materialize to redo the plumbing so it can be a fountain -- as Beasley originally conceived it to be. Web Link
For years I have followed the fate of the old fountain, believed to have been installed in the 1970s -- I thought it was a bit older -- because of the proclivity of local kids (one presumes) to dump soap, sometimes laced with food coloring, into the fountain to create a huge pile of suds.
"If you get rid of the fountain, where can local kids then go for some good clean fun?" I asked Ronna Devincenzi, who heads up the California Avenue Area Development Association, a kind of local Chamber of Commerce for the area. The association board went on record officially last week favoring *either* a new sculpture or (preferably) a new fountain if funds can be found for re-doing the old plumbing system, for which cost estimates are being updated.
Ronna explained that the old fountain is cracked and has had to be supported by steel pipes to keep it from falling over. Seems it has been bumped into a few times by vehicles, possibly including local delivery trucks trying to negotiate a tight turning circle around it. People for some reason seem reluctant to report a solo-vehicle collision with a large fountain. Perhaps some were customers of a local nightspot or other who had other reasons for not reporting whacking a local monument.
Longtime Palo Altan Ellen Wyman, with a history of community activism on various issues, usually relating to slowing growth, likes the old fountain and circulated a petition to save it, getting 2 to 1 support from the three-score or so people she contacted.
Well, I like the old fountain, too. I like its "Classic Birdbath" design. Even the support bars are pretty much hidden by the falling water. Pretty much.
But it is hardly historic, unless us short-memory Californians are shortening our definition of that often-vague term.
And Beasley has a worldwide reputation for his sculptural works. This isn't another large running doll with a face in her stomach.
Yet without water, it also seems a bit blockish and barren -- the image, with local buildings removed from the background, makes it look a bit like a surreal scene out of a sci-fi movie. I can't imagine going to it on a sunny, or hot, day to sit on a hot block of stone to look at a 12-foot high pile of equally hot blocks.
Yet if water were flowing out of them in some creative fashion. ... Well, water has a kind of magic, a softening, cooling, inviting sense and its flow can be both soothing and entertaining -- as well as turbulent and exciting in a different design. A fountain is something to look at, to feel, to appreciate -- in short, to visit.
Without water, how long would it be before kids swarm all over it, climbing it, falling off of it? The sculptor believes it's not climbable. I wouldn't touch a bet on that with a 30-foot rope. Has he seen some of our youthful rock climbers in action? Liability? I suppose we could put handholds on it and make it an official climbing block.
But a pile of wet, slimey, blocks would discourage the climbers -- even if it wouldn't touch the midnight sudsers.
on May 30, 2008 at 4:54 pm
I tend to agree with you Jay. The old fountain is an old fountain, but the blocks's sculpture is ugly. Maybe if water could be included in the design, it might work. Otherwise, it is just as you say, plus another obstacle for drivers. Question, will they be lit up or will drivers have to depend on their own headlights to spot them at dusk or nighttime?
on May 30, 2008 at 9:18 pm
We were watching TV yesterday (Catching up on European soccer news)and a new sculpture was unveiled at the big football (soccer) stadium in London, and guess what! It was a wonderful sculpture featuring three famous British soccer players from history. So - this is "sports art." I immediately noticed how much BETTER this sculpture was compared to the awful public art on California Ave. in Palo Alto. And that includes the proposed new blocklike scupture. Keep the fountain or else get something decent in there. It isn't rocket science. And thank you, Ellen Wyman for your community service.
on May 31, 2008 at 12:24 am
My family moved to the area in 1961. The fountain has been there since the early '60s, 1961 or 1962 at least. It is a neighborhood institution, soap suds and all (the suds aren't vandalism, they make the fountain more festive!). There are lights in the fountain itself which probably fell into disrepair years ago. Proper traffic lights and signs are needed to hopefully divert tipsy drivers around it. It's sad to see the old thing propped up with crutches now.
Tearing down everything old in Palo Alto is not necessarily a good thing. You wouldn't tear down the community theaters or St. Thomas Aquinas, would you? Palo Altans can either rehabilitate the existing fountain (or build a new one like it) or they can build a monument to the enclave for effete silicon- and real estate-wealthy yuppie millionaires that Palo Alto has become. Or remove the fountain altogether, creating an empty void where a landmark used to be. Take your pick.