Restored Studebaker Electric Fountain rises in Indiana park

 
 
Posted7/20/2019 7:00 AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A landmark once thought gone forever is being assembled piece by piece in Leeper Park.

The historic Studebaker Electric Fountain, rebuilt and restored to its original glory, occupies a place of prominence in the central section of the park. All the fountain's pieces - both restored original pieces and newly cast replacement pieces for those that were missing - have been delivered.

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Ancon Construction workers this week have been assembling the fountain. By Tuesday morning, the fountain's central lower basin was in place, as well as one level of ornate figures topped by a large basin. A smaller basin and a section of classical-style female figures rose next. By Tuesday afternoon, the fountain had been topped with its crowning figure: a woman holding aloft a vase from which water will flow.

The elaborate Edwardian-era fountain's female figures, cherubs, dolphins and turtles gleam, much as they must have back in 1906 when the fountain was originally dedicated in Howard Park. It's impossible to tell the newly cast pieces from the restored pieces of 113 years ago.

The fountain is expected to be complete and in operation by the end of July, according to the city's Department of Venues, Parks & Arts.

The basins and central sections of the fountain are made of cast iron, while the ornate figures are cast zinc (original figures) or cast aluminum (replacement pieces), said Luke Robinson, a representative of Robinson Iron Corp. of Alexander City, Alabama, who was in town Monday. That company crafted the plans and provided the casts for the replacement pieces.

The cherub figures weigh about 100 pounds each, Robinson said, lifting a figure to demonstrate.

Robinson Iron doesn't own a cast of the cherub figure, so the two remaining South Bend cherubs had to be taken apart in order to create a cast to produce four new cherub figures for the fountain.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Restoration of the remaining original pieces was handled by McKay Lodge Fine Art Conservation Laboratory Inc. of Oberlin, Ohio.

Local residents can watch the fountain assembly progress through a chain link fence around the work site.

The fountain was a gift to the city by John M. Studebaker, co-founder and president of the Studebaker Corp. It was expected to last generations, but it started deteriorating within a couple of decades.

The crumbling fountain was removed from Howard Park in 1941, when the city had no money to repair it. It was long thought lost, but part of it resurfaced a few years ago and was donated to The History Museum.

A plan arose to restore the fountain as a public landmark. In less than eight months, a committee of community volunteers managed to raise more than $648,900 in private contributions to restore the fountain's existing pieces and recast missing pieces.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The fountain is large: about 28 feet tall, with a pool nearly 42 feet in diameter. As it did in 1906, the fountain has a 14-foot circular concrete plaza around it.

The South Bend fountain was one of the largest and most ornate offered by J.L. Mott Iron Works, the prominent company that crafted it, Robinson said.

His grandfather, Joseph Robinson, began buying vintage casts for iron work in the 1940s, including many casts that originally belonged to the defunct J.L. Mott company. That's why Robinson Iron already had many of the original casts needed for the South Bend fountain.

"There are fountains very similar to this one in Memphis, Tennessee, and Brooklyn, New York," Robinson said.

Robinson Iron Works frequently does repair and replacement work of vintage fountains. "Sometimes there's nothing left but a postcard image," he said, noting the company can create vintage-looking fountains from scratch.

The restored fountain will be lit with colored LED lights, similar to the incandescent lights that awed South Bend crowds when the fountain was originally dedicated in 1906 in a central spot in Howard Park. Electric lighting was relatively new then, and a lighted public fountain was a great novelty.

Ancon Construction, the firm handling assembly of the project, is awaiting several parts that are on order to complete the project. When those parts arrive, the work can be completed. And South Bend's history fountain will flow again.

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HOW TO CONTRIBUTE:

Public donations are still being accepted for an endowment fund for the Studebaker Electric Fountain's future maintenance. Donors may purchase commemorative bricks that will be placed in the fountain plaza. Donations are tax-deductible. Checks may be mailed to Studebaker Fountain Committee, c/o Mo Miller, CPA and treasurer, 814 Marietta St., South Bend, IN 46601. For more information, contact Vicki McIntire at vickimcintire@comcast.net.

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Source: South Bend Tribune

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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