California Avenue fountain finalists unveiled

Public invited to review design proposals, comment online

California Avenue in Palo Alto is now closer to having a new fountain after the city's Public Art Commission chose three proposals as finalists -- one traditional design and two more abstract, sculptural designs.

The proposals will be available for viewing at the city's Open City Hall website between Jan. 5 and 18.

The public is invited to review the proposals, select a favorite and leave feedback for the Public Art Commission during the viewing period.

The traditional design is by Jennifer Madden and Jeffrey Reed. The two sculptural fountain proposals are by Mark Oldland and Michael Szabo.

After considering public feedback, the commission will select the final design proposal at the Thursday, Jan. 20 meeting.

The commission's previous proposal for a fountain designed by sculptor Bruce Beasley met with community opposition in 2008. Since then, the commission has met with California Avenue area residents and businesspeople to come up with alternative designs to replace the current fountain, located near the Caltrain station.

"At the end of the public-input period, the Art Commission can break down the results by residents and non-residents to see what the Palo Alto community, as well as the broader public served by California Avenue, prefers," according to a press release from Elise DeMarzo, staff liaison to the commission.

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Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

#1 and #3 get my votes. I can live with either.

#2, while vaguely reminiscent of cranes or swans feels too rough and angular to communicate a sense of peace which is what is usually aspired to with a fountain.

No offense to the artist of #2, but it just bothers me.

Like this comment
Posted by Ddrumm
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 21, 2010 at 10:36 am

#3 is my first choice, then #1. Some of the art displays on CA Ave creep me out when I drive by. I hope this one will be more peaceful to the eye and soul.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2010 at 11:54 am

Numbers on pictures do not agree with the order of the pictures on the article, so not sure who likes what.

But, it is important to say that we need to make sure the wall around the fountain is high enough for a toddler not to fall in. One looks particularly low to me. These are not toys like the fountains at Mitchell Park and I would hate an accident to occur just like the one in San Francisco recently.

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Posted by Bruce
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2010 at 11:55 am

#1 is preferable, #3 is okay

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Posted by Anne Schmitt
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm

What about the cost of each one? That would be part of the vote for me. I do like the first one shown best however. Let's not have anything else 'weird' on that street - someone else referred to that too. Thanks for asking!

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Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Palo Alto's Public Art Commission is notorious for it's hideous choices of public art. Just look at the ghastly public art adorning California Avenue. I'm sure another freakish piece of art will be chosen for the fountain. California Avenue has always had the potential to be a charming, wonderful, local shopping district. Instead, the City has botched every decision it has made for that neighborhood. Complete incompetence. Mature trees chopped down, odd art, etc. It's a pity.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm

not sure what to say about the fountains..but this last post made me laugh "..another freakish piece of art..." I have to agree, I love art and support artists, but Palo Alto's particular choices for public art have generally been unfortunate, especially on California Avenue. Go Mama!

Like this comment
Posted by Karla Kane
Palo Alto Weekly editorial assistant
on Dec 21, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Karla Kane is a registered user.

According to DeMarzo, all the proposals' costs fall under $50,000 (the maximum budget limit set for the project). The Public Art Commission has chosen not to include the individual budgets for each proposal, however, with the intent that the decision be made on artistic merit rather than cost considerations.

Like this comment
Posted by Mac Clayton
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 21, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I'm sure this ship must have sailed, but why not keep the old one? It looks fine, and the city is cutting back on other important spending to balance the budget.

Like this comment
Posted by Karla Kane
Palo Alto Weekly editorial assistant
on Dec 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Karla Kane is a registered user.

I believe the traditional fountain design is actually an update/renovation of the current fountain (which is in need of repair/refurbishing).

Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

The old one is broken beyond repair, that's why.

Like this comment
Posted by MGriffin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm

The white one has drama and grace that the others lack. These provide an artistic value which will make living with it continually interesting and attractive over the years, rather than a bland, "look-alike" design.

Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I have to love some of the posts that describe the pervious art pieces in Palo Alto. "Inappropriate", "ugly", "hidious", and "what were you thinking" have been my feelings on a grand majoriity of INAPPROPRIATE ART IN PUBLIC PLACES. The worst public art project has to be Byxbee Park and that pile of concrete rubble at the baylands sailing station ranks a close second.

Stick with a traditional fountain for California Ave.

Like this comment
Posted by Sethro
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Why don't the images show green foam overrunning the fountain (Go PALY Vikings Football)!

Like this comment
Posted by D-Boy
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Um, isn't number one just a 5th graders rendition of the existing fountain? Is this what "traditional."

Number three has promise, but the original one that got canned was better by a long shot than any of these.

I agree we need to know expenses for each.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2010 at 2:29 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The Szabo one makes it with me. The traditional, might as well keep the one we have now

Like this comment
Posted by Newton
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:37 am

Why not a public pillory in that space, for thieves and vandals? Maybe a pillory in the fountain? Millie Stones could sell rotten tomatoes. It would drive business to California Ave. and they could make kids who didn't do their homework clean up the mess as a public service.

Like this comment
Posted by Kir
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 22, 2010 at 9:21 am

The traditional one has to be moved. any up date to the paving, which is needed to repave the street, would have to include ramps that are to code. The current fountain, as I understand it is too far north to allow the north ramp to meet code, in addition to being too damaged to repair.

I agree with the Go Mama comments. I am a designer with fine arts degrees from two schools, have lived in Palo Alto since 1963, and have watched the art selection process with shock and amazement. And I do not mean that in a good way! Love some of the other art in the city, but I think between Go Mama, the matchbox car that gives off fiberglass splinters to any kid bold enough to touch in, and the bronze soldiers clustered around the 'Caryatid fallen under her Maytag' in the supposedly public plaza south of the Avenue, We CA avenuers have gotten beaten with the short end of the art stick.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 22, 2010 at 10:48 am

It would help if the renderings illustrated how each fountain would appear when filled with dyed green water and soap bubbles. Then I could make a more informed choice.

Like this comment
Posted by Rachel
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:02 am

I work in Palo Alto and go to California Avenue often. Overall, I very much like the art that lines that district. Not each piece is my preference. But not all pieces in a museum are my preference either.

But I like most of those pieces, including "Go Mama" & the car on Alma. Both are fun & unexpected - which is what public art should be about.

Kir: for all your art experience, it must not be in PUBLIC art. I'm glad you're not on the art commmission - perhaps you could volunteer your expertise at the Stanford museum.

Kids are not supposed to climb and interact with public art pieces.
If a child were to see a painting on a wall at a museum and try to touch it, a docent would tell the parent to educate his/her child about proper behavior around art work.

If parents want his/her child to play on large structures outside, take them to a park. Palo Alto has plenty & with no splinters.

Like this comment
Posted by Marci
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:27 am

Some of the best Public Art successfully engages the public - even kids.
You may view award-winning Millennium Park in Chicago and its "Crown Fountain."
Not only are residents featured, they are welcome to touch. I think it's great.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Jan St. Peter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm

As someone who walks by the California Avenue fountain each day I, like many of my neighbors, miss the sight and sounds of the traditional “old” fountain. I hope people realize that the Palo Alto Public Arts Commission is offering a "green" choice by recycling the old fountain, saving the city money and maintaining a California Avenue tradition with Choice #1.

California Avenue has suffered from the clear-cutting of 63 trees and a proliferation of public art with little community input. I believe this is because various public and quasi-public groups (Public Works, Public Art Commission and California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA) have not effectively collaborated for the public's benefit.

Here's some history: While Public Works permitted the old fountain to fall into disrepair, the Public Art Commission and the California Avenue Area Development Association (representing merchants) spent over a decade trying to turn Cal Ave into the "Avenue of the Arts" (see former CAADA President’s resignation letter: [Web Link]). About 5 years ago, it was decided, mostly by the Art Commission and CAADA, that the old fountain should be replaced by a modern sculpture by Bruce Beasley. When residents got wind of that plan, 15 people passed a petition garnering over 800 signatures opposing the Beasley piece in favor of a fountain. At a city council meeting in Nov. 2008, the council decided the Beasley piece would not replace the old fountain, but placed the fate of the fountain in the hands of the Art Commission, with the Council stating they would not give further oversight to this project. Now in 2011, we will vote on three artists' proposals. The "we" in the voting is anyone who can log-on to Open City Hall, you need not be a Palo Alto resident (actually, you need not be a Palo Alto resident to be on the Palo Alto Arts Commission!). And once the voting is done, the Arts Commission will "consider" the vote (see [Web Link]). What isn't mentioned in either article is that the traditional fountain (Choice #1) will recycle the current fountain (with some modernizing touches) and cost almost 1/2 less that the other two fountains.

Like this comment
Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

To "Jan St. Peter -

You say "Public Works permitted to (sic) old fountain to fall into disrepair".

It would be really nice if folks would get their facts straight about the things that have happened on California Avenue. The Public Works Department has become the scape goat for anything that folks don't like about the issues on the street, regardless of whether they had anything to do with it or not.

The fountain was not the maintenance responsibility of Public Works; it was maintained by the Community Services/Parks Department. Moreover, NO ONE allowed it to "fall into disrepair". It was over 20+ years old, and simply worn out and deteriorated from time and usage.

Things don't last forever.

Efforts have been under way for 5+ years to try and get a replacement approved; however it was delayed by the "Palo Alto process" and reviews by multiple political bodies. Staff is not at fault here.

It's time to get over the blame game and stop assuming that just because one does not understand or like something that transpires it automatically means that someone was "wrong' or to blame.

Time to grow up, folks!

Happy Holidays to all! (dare I say Merry Christmas?)

Like this comment
Posted by Owen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

You must be kidding, with the Crown Fountain idea being a prototype for that location. Are you serious?

If you are, that Bruce Beasley piece was much more attractive than than this web link art from Chicago. The Beasley piece was a sleek looking fountain - I remember the photograph of it. I didn't think it was just a sculpture that the art commission proposed. It was a fountain.

So it could have easily been rigged to shoot water out its sides too, maybe even aiming for people: like the ones that complain about everything in Palo Alto. That's the ticket: good old airborne water will get their attention and finally shut them up! The fountain could work for us - best part is it would be in good fun! Endless complainers? Head's up: water coming your way now!!

You know, between the Peanut Gallery and the High Speed Rail, Palo Alto just 'aint what it used to be, and that comes from a 55 year-long resident that thought he'd seen and heard it all.

Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm

When I first viewed the depictions in the web-linked article, I thought I preferred #3, though I am generally disappointed with the selections. Then I saw larger, more detailed photos in the Daily Post and I really hated the Szabo fountain (#3). I now think #1, the traditional fountain, is the best of the three not-so-great choices. The artist's rendering of #1 makes it look pretty bad, especially in the online-posted article, but if you try to visualize the fountain without the water drawn in so that it looks like "Cousin It," #1 seems the least offensive. Did the Art Commission deliberately have the rendering of #1 look bad to bias the public against it?

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Owen, I don't think anyone is proposing the fountain from Chicago for here. Thanks, Marci, for the link, which reminded me of someplace I have been.
Since I have been to Millenium Park in the hottest summertime and the coldest wintertime, I can assure you it is a wonderful, successful park. I can't imagine someone from PA criticizing this park.
When I saw the fountain, there was a great deal of wonder and enjoyment. It is but one small part of the excellent Millennium Park.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I am not a plumber or a fountain artist, but I am smiling about a 20 year old fountain being too old to repair and/or maintain. It is a good thing that none of you say the same about some of the wonderful fountains in Rome, Paris and other European cities.

If we can get all emotional about the historic value of an old adobe house, an eichler, or a plaza, then why can't we get the same sort of value of pieces of art. I would much rather preserve something of artistic value for the next generations rather than a wooden structure - after all wood does rot.

Whatever we choose, I trust that it will be lasting. I don't expect to be told in another 20 years' time that the fountain is too old to maintain and needs to be replaced.

If this fountain is art, then it should be something worth cherishing and worthy to last hundreds of years. If it is something which is just plumbing, then why call it art?

Like this comment
Posted by Santa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Please, folks, let's end 2010 on a jolly note without any more controversies surrounding California Avenue!

Like this comment
Posted by 20 year fountain
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Yeah, I agree. A fountain can last hundreds of years. To say that a fountain was well maintained but is just too old at twenty years is bogus.

Like this comment
Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm

To "Resident"-

....and now it is I who am smiling at your inferred comparison of lifecycles for the old Cal Ave fountain to the great fountain sculptures of Europe. The granite stone of, say, the fountains of Trevi in Rome is a bit more durable than the cast concrete of the old Cal Ave fountain.

The Romans built for a milenia; government today in Palo Alto builds for a $50k/year allocation for art.......

For the record, there was a staff alternative proposal to "repair"/replace the existing fountain in like style, but it was rejected by Commission and Council.

Like this comment
Posted by Meriam
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I wish the commission had standardized guidelines for the finalists' renderings. Don't understand how we can give feedback when one is a drawing only. That aside, #2 is the most evocative by far. #3 too dense. #1, a ho-hum version of the original.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Maybe we should consider how these will look in the context of an HSR viaduct in the immediate background.

Like this comment
Posted by Numbers are confusing
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2010 at 1:03 am

The pictures are in a different order than what is shown elsewhere.
Refer to them by the name of the artist, not by numbers 1,2,3 when expressing preferences.

Like this comment
Posted by Fountain Viewer
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

It's rather sad that this decision is a vote since most people who vote won't ever see the fountain live in person. The one thing that's not clear about the choices is whether the fountain will generate any white noise. That's one utility provided by the fountain.

I agree with many posters that the City's art team chooses strange works. I hope the community doesn't go for one of the weirder choices here.

The irony of all of this is that if the HSR goes through then the fountain will likely need to be moved again. Then again that's uncertain since the HSRA can't decide if they want to unnecessarily destroy the neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Marilyn Tomsky
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I liked the top one best. The other two are too modern radical.

Like this comment
Posted by TG
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I'm voting and encouraging folks to "vote" * for the Madden/Reed fountain which is maintaining a bit of history of the area while also representing Palo Alto's efforts to be green! I feel the other two being more vertical will impinge on the beautiful view of the mountains to the West and to the East they would get lost in the stature of the flag poles. Not to mention California Ave has quite a few "modern" pieces and diversity is always nice! I thank Post writer Ryan for including the cost of each piece as this is important in making a fully educated decision. * In closing I would like to encourage the Art Commission to take the public votes seriously "under consideration" when they convene to make their final decision.

Like this comment
Posted by karen curnutte
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I vote for number one......enough of the weird expensive stuff, like they did on University and High.

Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I like is more traditional and pleasing to the eye.

Like this comment
Posted by Laurie
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm

The old original fountain wasn't bad...I have to say that most of the sculptures selected to adorn PA are pretty unappealing least #1 isn't as offensive to the senses as some sculptures that currently stand in Palo Alto's public places.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Number 1 is the best of the bunch

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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