View The PDF Recap Here - Chicago Tour

CTPA visit
Behind-the-Scenes of Buckingham Fountain
August 11, 2014
The $15 per person to attend this event was
worth it!!! Here we were, crowding – a few
at a time – inside that small, low octagonal
brown stone building at the southeast area
of the pink Georgia marble surround of the
great fountain. It was a marvel of buttons
and gears and pipes and controls, with a
narrow view of the fountain from horizontal
windows near the ceiling.
Monday morning, the first group was in place as many others
began to arrive, standing on the grass inside the outward-curving
iron fence. Although it was made clear that two groups at a time
would hear the presentation by Julia Bachrach and Michael Fus,
one at 11:00am and the other at 11:30am, some latecomers did try
to scale the fence to join the group, and found it quite impossible!
Nevertheless, we’re sure that more nimble teenagers or perhaps
intoxicated denizens of the City have succeeded in gaining access
to the water, hopefully soon chased out by park patrols. Michael
Fus told some of us the story of how in 2008 the fountain
overflowed with bubble bath, thanks to a soapy intervention by a
rowdy crew of students from the nearby Hilton Hotel. And they did
it twice!
Julia Bachrach (right) reiterated
the history of Grant Park and the
Montgomery Ward lawsuits that
saved the lakefront and how
Buckingham Fountain came to be
information so many of us have
information followed:
• Grant Park needed a formal
visual focal point after it was
decided to build the Field Museum on Illinois Central property to the south of the
center of downtown, and the idea of a grand fountain emerged. Kate Buckingham was
approached and successfully persuaded to contribute the money needed to build the
fountain. Both she and her brother Clarence, who had died, were art collectors and
active in the Art Institute.
• The fountain is maintained by the Buckingham money together with contributions and
money from the Park District.
• In the olden days, the fountain was manually operated by two fellows on two twelvehour shifts, each working every other day.
Yes, indeed, the fountain was once operated by a computer in Atlanta. In the days of
main frame computers the size of small buildings, the monster in Georgia helped to
run many other entities besides the fountain. As computers shrunk in size, there was
no need for such long-distance activity.
Our largest decorative fountain in the world was designed by Edward Bennett, who
worked with Burnham on the Plan of Chicago. His design is an interpretation of the
famed Latona Fountain in Versailles, not a copy. But ours is twice the size, completed
in 1927.
The seahorses are bronze. The small heads raised in between are fish.
Written by: Judith Randall CTG, CTPA Secretary
PHOTOS BY: Irama Neri-Heiz, CTG
Above: Buckingham
Below: Latona Fountain at Versailles (found on line)
AUGUST 11, 2014
Thirty-six CTPA members signed up to participate in a behind-the-scenes look at Buckingham
Fountain. We were greeted by Julia Bachrach and Michael Fus who provided us with detailed
information and little known facts. (Some information was in the CTPA invitation and can be found
We were able to visit the below grade level control area of
the fountain and turn on and off the water jets for the sea
horses and the cat tails. We had to vacate the structure
during the major display (that happens for 20 minutes just
after the top of every hour). At seven minutes past the hour, it
gets very noisy as the center fountain
jet shoots 150 feet in the air.
To the right is a photo of an inscription
seen to the left of the computer
screen on the control panel. We were
able to see the old (right side) and new (left side) controls and visit a below
ground area where the mainframe computer and pump mechanisms are
Michael Fus, Preservation Architect/Capital
Construction of the Chicago Park District,
explained to us:
• After years of manual operation, the fountain controls were computerized.
It is true that for a time (approx. 1983-1994) the IBM computer that
controlled the fountain displays was in Atlanta.
• The foundation was rebuilt in 2012.
• As part of recent renovations, 120 benches were added and the fence
surrounding the fountain was restored. They also made the area around
the fountain more handicap accessible by adding pavers and removing
the gravel that once was there.
• They rebuilt three original pumps and did not add any new ones.
• There are still leakage issues underground that need to be addressed.
• People adopted parts of the Fountain to help with the renovations.
• When the Fountain was closed, only a portion of repairs that were needed were accomplished;
there is much more that needs to be done.
• There is a manhole in the middle of the
Fountain to gain access for changing bulbs for
the lights.
Julia mentioned in 2011 she and Michael were
invited to Paris to visit Versailles where Michael
had inside knowledge, having spent time there
studying. Although the Chicago fountain was
inspired by the Latona Basin’s wedding cake style
form, the French fountain is smaller than
Buckingham—about half the size. They also have
different sculpture themes.
Julia told us:
• The Fountain was under construction the same time as the Stevens Hotel (now Chicago Hilton
and Towers). A good online source for old photos is the Library of Congress site, American
• In the 1970's the lights were customized, computerized in 1982 and then redone in 2013.
• The Buckingham Family were from Zanesville, Ohio, and made their fortune in grain elevators.
• Kate and Clarence (sister and brother) never married thus had no heirs for their fortune.
• Kate donated more than one million, which included $350,000 as an endowment for up keep of
the fountain. It wasn't enough.
• Grant Park began as a narrow strip along Michigan Avenue, initially known as Lake Park. It is
true that after the 1871 Chicago Fire, fire rubble helped to speed up the land-fill expansion of
the park.
• Edward H. Bennett designed the monument in collaboration with French sculptor Marcel Loyau
and engineer Jacques H. Lambert.
• Julia mentioned the hint of Art Deco in the classic design. Do you see it?
A few of us were able to speak with Willa Iglitzen Lang,
Executive Director of the Chicago Parks Foundation, (in
no way associated with Friends of the Parks). The Chicago
Parks Foundation is just over a year old having been formed
in July of 2013. The Foundation was put in place to oversee
the harbors, field houses, golf courses, lagoons and
playgrounds, ensuring that there is sufficient funding, outside
of tax dollars, for upkeep of these spaces and places.
It appeared all enjoyed the Buckingham Fountain visit and
many lingered to talk with Julia, Michael and Willa about the
Fountain and other Park District related topics.
You can reach Julia at
[email protected], Michael at
[email protected] and
Willa at [email protected]
For further information about any of the Chicago Park District
properties you can visit
Submitted by: Gina V Driskell, Co-Secretary
Photos by: Donna Primas, CTG