The Printers Row Fountain is back to its former glory after a nearly two-year-long restoration. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH LOOP — Printers Row’s favorite fountain is back.

After a nearly two-year effort by the Printers Row Park Advisory Council, the 4th Ward service office and neighbors, the 25-year-old structure returned to Printers Row Park, 632 S. Dearborn St., in late June.

Over 150 people came out for the community celebration, including Edward Windhorst, the architect who designed the fountain in 1999, Printers Row Park Advisory Council President James Rice said.

“It was a really great turnout. It shows you how committed our neighbors were,” Rice said.

Harsh Chicago winters and lackadaisical maintenance contributed to the fountain’s deterioration. The interior parts had rusted, making the fountain no longer functional, and the lights that drew visitors to the park on hot summer nights were in desperate need of repair.

The park advisory council kicked off the restoration project in September 2021 with a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $110,000 to upgrade the lighting, repair the pump and pipes, replace the colored enamel reliefs and polish the fountain’s bronze highlights. The 4th Ward office, then led by Sophia King, followed through on a promise to match a $10,000 donation from the Chicago Park District.

It took a year for the park advisory council to meet its goal, Rice said.

“The Chicago Parks Foundation was our first fundraiser. Then we did a second fundraiser where we actually sold the ceramic tiles with engravings that are now mounted all around the base of the fountain,” Rice said. “We did that ourselves through a company called That’s My Brick in Wisconsin that provided them and did all the accounting for it in the process.”

Windhorst also helped, sharing his original drawings and offering recommendations for companies that specialize in restoration. The council eventually chose Wheeling-based Fountain Technologies to lead the project.

Bricks at the base of the newly restored Printers Row Fountain display the names of donors who contributed to the effort. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

But why a fountain? And why there, of all places? You can thank former Mayor Richard M. Daley for that, Rice said.

“Before the park was even built, there was a small right of way that was owned by the the city, but not officially a Chicago Park District park. It was just a small space,” Rice said. “Apparently Daley used to work out at a gym across the street from it. So the story goes that he thought it would be a nice place to have a fountain because he had become enamored with fountains while in Paris.”

The city first installed an “off the shelf” wrought iron statue and plumbing, but Daley, who envisioned a city filled with fountains, took one look at the finished product and ordered its removal, according to Rice.

“He wanted something more fitting to the area, a little more Art Nouveau. So, they set about commissioning to have it made, which it was by DeStefano and Partners,” Rice said.

Rice and the park advisory council had been pushing for repairs since before the council formed a decade ago.

Fountains are supposed to work on a filtration system, re-pumping the water through it, Rice said. If the water level gets down to a certain amount, more water is supposed to be filled in. Instead, those in charge of maintaining the fountain poured Lake Michigan water straight into the end of the fountain and out the drain, Rice said.

The fountain has a new filtration system, new control panels, restored brass fixtures, new LED lights and fresh paint — along with protective coating to keep it fresh for years to come.

For Rice, the fountain not only symbolizes the neighborhood’s transformation from vice district to family-friendly enclave but also serves as a sign of stability, a sentiment echoed by Tours With Mike Founder Mike McMains when Block Club interviewed him in March 2022.

“A lot of the buildings were vacant, including the building I’m in, the transportation building. It sat vacant for years except for homeless occupants, and it was converted in in the late ’70s along with most of this area … [Printers Row] was brought back to life and now it’s a very vibrant community. The fountain kind of brings together the whole Art Nouveau feeling of the neighborhood,” Rice said.

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