Great cities have great fountains.
They're not essential. Amenities such as beauty and amusement will always rank below essentials such as sanitation and a thriving economy. But a fountain says that life here is more than just the basics.
Now that fountains around the Twin Cities are beginning to ignite one by one, we take a look at some of our best and lament a few that we've lost.
The 'Dandelion' fountain
Ben Berger, a parks commissioner, saw a similar fountain while visiting Sydney, Australia, and decided Minneapolis needed one. He paid for the sculpture with money his theater chain made from showing "The Exorcist," which might explain why the fountain, which was installed in 1975, has seemed a bit cursed over the years. The pipes aged and failed; it spent winters under an ugly wooden box. There are plans to rehabilitate the iconic Minneapolis fountain (aka the Berger fountain). Go to loringpark.org/berger-fountain/ for more info.
The Turtle fountain
Officially known as the Phelps fountain, this is one of the most loved fountains in the Twin Cities, in part because of the turtles that perch on the basin, shooting out streams of water. (Hence its popular name.) It also has the perfect setting — in the Lyndale Park Rose Garden near Lake Harriet.
Originally, the fountain was part of the Gateway Park, a triangular wedge that forded the intersection of Hennepin and Nicollet avenues in downtown. As the Gateway district declined, so did the park. The fountain was moved to its current location in the early 1960s.
The Heffelfinger fountain
Near the Turtle fountain is the Heffelfinger fountain, named for Frank T. Heffelfinger, who bought it in the 1920s and lived to see it installed in Lyndale Park in 1947. The fountain was designed and built for the Villa Montalto in Fiesole, Italy, likely in the early 20th century. Its style is based on 16th-century Florentine sculpture.
The great pool-and-fountain complex at Orchestra Hall on Nicollet Mall is proof that unadorned concrete can achieve not only beauty, but a place in the hearts of locals. (It's also on the National Register of Historic Places.)
It's an oasis in a downtown that lacks attractive open spaces, and the bland material of the concrete sets off the shimmering water to the best possible advantage. Its 2019 renovation restored the plaza to its original glory and made it more accessible to all.
Rice Park, the venerable green space that abuts Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul, has had a fountain since 1872. "The Source," a sculpture of a young woman walking in a basin of water, was created by Wisconsin artist Alonzo Hauser. The fountain was installed in 1965, a donation of the Women's Institute of St. Paul.
This pocket of greenery and historic homes, close to downtown St. Paul, boasts an elegant triple-tiered fountain in the classical style. It's a 1978 reproduction of the original 1881 fountain. The new fountain, which features water spouting from gargoyles rather than dog heads, is the centerpiece of the soothing urban park, which is designed in the traditional New England style.
Fountains we miss
There were six fountains on Nicollet Mall. Now there are none, unless you consider the understated fountain on the Loring Greenway, and we'd rather not.
The H.C. Richardson fountain, the largest of fountains on the mall, was dedicated by Lady Bird Johnson in 1967.
Another work, known unofficially as the Bird fountain, was installed outside the Young Quinlan building as part of a 1992 project. The sculpture was created by Massachusetts artist Elliot Offner and featured three Minnesota birds: sage grouse, great blue heron and loon. It was removed during one of the mall's many renovations.
Another Mall fountain lost to redesign: the "Ice/Water" fountain at 6th Street.