PBC Approves Replica of Historic Fountain

Terry Levin, (312) 744-9277

A public fountain in Wicker Park will be rebuilt this fall in its original turn-of-the-century image after some of the original molds used in its casting were located at an ironworks company in Alabama.

At its Monday board meeting, the Public Building Commission authorized the $56,000 payment for the replica cast-iron fountain bowl and four decorative urns, according to PBC executive director Eileen Carey.

The Wicker Park fountain, at Damen Avenue and Schiller Street, is one of five public fountains being constructed citywide this fall by the PBC as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Neighborhoods Alive program.

“Restoring the Wicker Park fountain to its original Victorian look will add considerable charm to this public park, where it can be enjoyed by everyone,” said Daley, who also chairs the PBC.

Finding the original appearance of the fountain required some detective work, since it had been repaired and renovated over the years in ways that considerably altered its look-including its conversion into a wading pool in 1908, according to Carey.

The trail started with a search through old Chicago Park District records to discover the original source of the fountain and determine if the designs still existed.

This research revealed the fountain was initially purchased from a New York firm called J.L. Mott Iron Works, explained Park District General Superintendent David Doig. . However, that company was later bought by the Robinson Iron Co. of Alexander City, Alabama.

After being contacted by Park District officials, the Robinson firm was able to find the original catalogs-and some of the actual molds used to cast the metal sections of the Wicker Park fountain.

Although this particular design can be traced back to 1883-the gargoyle-faced decorations led it to be named Gurgoyle, a good pun on the word “gurgle” whether intentional or not-the one in Wicker Park was installed in 1895.

The Wicker Park fountain-like the other four being constructed this fall-is being installed by HLF Construction Co., an African-American-owned Chicago firm that was the lowest of seven bidders for the contract.

The other four fountains are:

  • Sun Yat-sen Park Fountain, a renovation of the existing fountain at 24th Place and Princeton Avenue.
  • Portage Park Fountain, also a renovation at Irving Park Road and Central Avenue.
  • a new fountain near the branch library on the 3400 block of south Halsted St.
  • a new fountain at Waller/Midway Plaza on the city’s West Side.