As shoppers and revelers visit the Country Club Plaza this holiday season, they’ll likely notice something very different near the Main Street entrance.
The familiar and much-photographed J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain is surrounded by fencing, and the gorgeous bronze statuary is gone.
But it’s all good. The fountain is undergoing its first major renovation in more than 50 years, thanks to $250,000 in private donations. That contribution also signifies momentum in a comprehensive fundraising campaign to restore some of Kansas City’s most beloved fountains.
The Seville Light Fountain at 47th Street and J.C. Nichols Parkway, a whimsical and ornate marble creation that hasn’t worked for years, also will be repaired this winter, with Plaza owner Highwoods Properties handling the cost, estimated at $500,000.
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City officials timed the repairs to have the fountains back in working order for Fountain Day, April 14, 2015.
“This is all very positive,” said Kansas City Parks Director Mark McHenry, noting that another announcement is expected soon about the completed fundraising and $650,000 restoration plan for the William Volker Memorial Fountain at Volker Boulevard near Oak Street.
McHenry is especially encouraged that a campaign to raise $3 million in private dollars to address nine fountains is more than halfway to its goal. Most of the waterworks have received at least some sort of earmarked charitable contribution.
“We’ve made great progress with the bulk of them,” McHenry said.
The Nichols fountain is likely Kansas City’s most famous waterwork, gaining national exposure during televised coverage when the “City of Fountains” was host for the World Series in October. But the concrete bases under the bronze sculptures are crumbling, the basin floor is cracked, the pumps and motors need to be replaced, and the statuary must be cleaned and waxed.
Crews moved the bronze horses and dolphins from the fountain on Wednesday to let all that work get underway.
“Everybody loves the Nichols fountain,” said Jocelyn Ball-Edson, the landscape architect with the parks department who is overseeing the work. As she visited the fountain this fall to plan the repairs, she was struck by how children, families, models in elegant dresses and even Royals mascot Sluggerrr used the fountain as a photographic backdrop to memorialize a wonderful time in the city.
“It’s such a rallying point,” she said.
When the water was turned off after the series, she realized something else.
“I never really saw what great art this is,” she said. “The sculptures are just magnificent.”
This winter’s work also provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the fountain to its original splendor, complete with all the statuary that was created for a wealthy Long Island family in the early 1900s.
Miller Nichols, son of legendary Kansas City neighborhood planner J.C. Nichols, acquired the fountain and sculptures as a memorial to his father and brought them to Kansas City in the late 1950s. But one of the original fish sculptures, known as the “fourth dolphin,” was missing.
An imitation sculpture was created and placed in the fountain’s northeast quadrant when it was dedicated at Mill Creek Park in May 1960. Almost no one notices it, but close inspection shows it’s not quite as detailed as the originals by French sculptor Henri Greber.
In 2008, a man realized his family in Florida had the missing dolphin and it was brought to Kansas City in 2010. Now it will it be reunited with the other original dolphins. The replacement dolphin, part of the fountain for more than 50 years, will be placed on a separate pedestal in a flower bed nearby.
“The original dolphin has come home,” said Kay Callison, granddaughter of J.C. Nichols and daughter of Miller Nichols. Callison is president of the Miller Nichols Charitable Foundation, which provided much of the funding for the restoration, along with in-kind donations from Water’s Edge Aquatic Design, JE Dunn Construction and Grundfos Pumps Corp.
Callison said the foundation also is providing funds for a maintenance endowment on the fountain, as has been established with many other fountains in the city so they don’t suffer deterioration over time.
She praises the broader fundraising campaign.
“It’s one of the best things that’s happened in Kansas City in many years,” she said.
Recognizing the need to preserve these artistic treasures, the City of Fountains Foundation launched its “Wish Upon a Fountain” campaign in June 2013, hoping to raise $2.5 million to fix eight signature fountains. It has since upped its goal to $3 million and added the Firefighters Memorial Fountainin Penn Valley Park to the list.
Foundation board member Pat O’Neill is optimistic the campaign will eventually be able to fix all nine fountains. The campaign has received pledges from more than 150 individuals, businesses and foundations. More information is at www.kcfountains.com.
“We are at $1.8 million,” O’Neill said. “I think we’re really going to get them all.”
The first fountain fixed under the campaign was the Eagle Scout Memorial Fountain at 39th Street and Gillham Road, with a $133,500 grant from the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Donor Advised Fund.
Others with critical repair needs include:
▪ The Seville Light Fountain. It is a replica of the Plaza de Los Reyes fountain in Seville, Spain, but its operating system has been broken for years, and the pavement around it is crumbling.
▪ The William Volker Memorial Fountain. It was dedicated in 1958 but a waterfall feature that was added in the 1990s has never really worked properly and needs an overhaul.
▪ The Children’s Fountain at North Oak and Northeast 32nd streets; the Sea Horse Fountain at Meyer Boulevard and Ward Parkway; the Spirit of Freedom Fountain at Cleaver II Boulevard and Cleveland Avenue; and the Westside Fountain at Southwest Boulevard and Summit Street.
Most have gotten some earmarked donations. But no one has stepped up to help the Delbert Haff Memorial Fountain at Meyer Boulevard and Swope Parkway, near the west entrance to Swope Park.
It commemorates a man involved with Kansas City’s original parks planning and is one of the oldest and largest fountains. It is way overdue for new plumbing, walls and basin, lighting and landscaping, at an estimated $500,000 cost.
“That has not gotten donations,” O’Neill said. “We’d really like to add a sculpture feature.”
How to help
For information about the campaign to restore the fountains, go to www.kcfountains.com.