Rejuvenating Waters

AOC Seeks to Save Fountain

Posted May 23, 2003 at 2:50pm

The Architect of the Capitol’s office is seeking nearly $4.3 million in its fiscal 2004 budget for restorations to the historic Bartholdi Fountain and the surrounding park.

According to Architect Alan Hantman, the fountain, created by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi for the 1876 International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, is in need of extensive repair work.

“If not funded, the Bartholdi sculpture will continue to deteriorate and the fountain will become inoperable,” Hantman wrote in testimony submitted to both the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch.

The 30-foot-tall fountain, located on a triangle of land along Independence Avenue Southwest across from the Botanic Garden, is plagued by leaks in both its upper and lower basins, and many of its water spigots function erratically.

Layers of protective coating, applied to the fountain’s cast-iron base during its most recent restoration in 1986, also have deteriorated, leaving the metal exposed to the corrosive elements.

The fountain’s intricate metalwork depicts turtles and fish along the base, and three 11-foot-tall sea nymphs who appear to hold aloft the upper basin.

According to Hantman’s testimony, the renovations will include the application of a protective treatment on the cast-iron portions of the fountain, as well as upgrading and replacing plumbing fixtures and electrical components, and the installation of a new basin and light fixtures.

The plans also call for the creation of an irrigation system and replacement of a sidewalk in Bartholdi Park.

The fountain arrived on Capitol Hill in 1877, after Congress purchased it for $6,000 at the behest of then-landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. (The fountain’s sculptor, Bartholdi, is best known for his creation of the Statue of Liberty, which was dedicated in 1886.)

Weighing in at nearly 40 tons, the Bartholdi fountain was originally placed at the base of the Capitol near the center of the Mall.

During a relocation of the Botanic Garden in 1927, the fountain was placed into storage for several years. Then-Architect David Lynn had the fountain placed in its current home in 1932.