WBEZ | Buckingham Fountain http://www.wbez.org/tags/buckingham-fountain Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Nice pipes: The inner workings of Buckingham Fountain http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/nice-pipes-inner-workings-buckingham-fountain-112844 <p><p>San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. For New York City, it&rsquo;s the Statue of Liberty. Chicago? It&rsquo;s got Buckingham Fountain, an icon that mingles water, multi-colored lights, and granite, as well as bronze and pink georgia marble. Not to mention a jet that sprays water to seemingly impossible heights.</p><p>The fountain&rsquo;s wow factor has entranced questioner Alan Ireland, an HVAC contractor and a self-described &ldquo;pump guy.&rdquo; While growing up in Chicago, he wondered how the fountain works and heard lore of a hidden engineer who kept the displays going. Combined, those led him to ask Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>I hear that Buckingham Fountain is run off of one individual pump and that there is one employee whose responsibility it is to keep the fountain running. Is that true?</em></p><p>Well, we got enough special access to answer Alan&rsquo;s question about the fountain&rsquo;s inner-workings, but as we learned more about the history, we also encountered a fascinating backstory about how Chicago came to have this grand landmark in the first place. Here&rsquo;s a hint: The fountain was a compromise &mdash; a way to establish a public lakefront without creating too much clutter.</p><p>But first ...</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">What does it take to make Buckingham Fountain tick?</span></p><p>When I ask Alan to describe the childhood legends he&rsquo;d heard, he says, &ldquo;This might come out really wrong, but like the troll under the bridge that keeps the bridge going or whatever. That sounds terrible. ... Let&rsquo;s call it the lighthouse keeper!&rdquo;</p><p>Instead of the proverbial troll under the bridge, we find tall, blue-eyed Eric Kelmar, an assistant chief engineer for the <a href="http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/clarence-f-buckingham-memorial-fountain/">Chicago Park District</a>. He manages the team of about five engineers who tend to Buckingham Fountain. Kelmar explains that due to the high priority of site, &ldquo;We try to keep it to a small family of people who operate it daily.&rdquo;</p><p>Every morning, from April 1 through mid-October, one of Kelmar&rsquo;s team throws on a pair of waders and pulls out any debris that birds may have lodged in the fountain&rsquo;s screens and baskets overnight.</p><p>Then, at 8:00 a.m., the engineer manually starts up the fountain. An hour later, the first water-show begins. Kelmar says the fountain&rsquo;s center jet can shoot water as high as 150 feet in the air, depending on wind conditions. That&rsquo;s 15 stories.</p><p>How many pumps does it take to pull that off?</p><p>Kelmar takes me down into Buckingham Fountain&rsquo;s underground pump room, which has three big pumps, each one being <em>original</em> 1927 DeLaval hardware. Their combined power totals 575 horsepower. (For context, a car in 1927 ran on 25 horsepower. Today, the average Toyota Corolla has approximately 140 horsepower.)</p><p>Kelmar says these old pumps require TLC, but they are built to last. &ldquo;Five years ago, we had them completely pulled out of the pump house and rewound, and they said there&#39;s no reason to replace [them],&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They were well-built and, with the new upgrades, they could last another 100 years.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="424" id="iframe" scrolling="no" src="//flickrit.com/slideshowholder.php?height=414&amp;width=620&amp;size=medium&amp;speed=stop&amp;count=8&amp;setId=72157657768098549&amp;caption=on&amp;counter=true&amp;credit=1&amp;theme=1&amp;thumbnails=0&amp;transition=0&amp;layoutType=fixed&amp;sort=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>No planned obsolescence here. In fact, Kelmar says that if they were to replace the original pumps, they would need about 24 modern pumps to do the same job.</p><p>In the past, the fountain&rsquo;s pumps were operated manually. Two engineers would alternate 12 hour shifts: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can still see the original bronze levers they used to control those pumps upstairs in the fountain&rsquo;s control room.</p><p>The fountain&rsquo;s light-show was also analog. The engineer would improvise each show on a complicated light board, littered with dozens of dimmers and switches. Chicago Park District historian Julia Bachrach explains that the engineer&rsquo;s creative decisions were not well-received.</p><p>&ldquo;In 1932, there were complaints that the engineer had garish taste and that he didn&#39;t know how to mix the colors properly to make a beautiful light show,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;So they brought in a theatrical lighting designer to help kind of create a program.&rdquo;</p><p>The light system went automatic in 1968 and, according to Bachrach, the fountain was computerized in 1980. The fountain&rsquo;s first computer was a Honeywell system which, from 1983 to 1994, was run out of a Honeywell office in Atlanta, Georgia. Later, the computer was moved to the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, before operations came full circle to the fountain&rsquo;s own control room. Today the fountain runs on an Allen-Bradley Programmable Logic Controller.</p><p>But, you can still override the system with the flip of a switch. Kelmar shows me the control panel, which sports an array of labeled switches: &ldquo;SEA HORSES,&rdquo; &ldquo;MUSHROOMS,&rdquo; &ldquo;ISOLATED JETS,&rdquo; and &ldquo;INNER TOP BOWL.&quot;</p><p>Opting for the seahorses, of course, I throw the switch from &ldquo;auto&rdquo; to &ldquo;off&rdquo; and, after a 13-second delay, the valves in the fountain&rsquo;s seahorses close. A loud sound emanates from the pump room below our feet and (voila!) the seahorses stop spitting. After a moment, the computer catches up, and the seahorses on the system&rsquo;s display change from green to red.</p><p>I quickly flip the switch back before any tourists get agitated. I wouldn&rsquo;t want to ruin any selfies.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The backstory on why the fountain&rsquo;s so grand</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/grant%20park%201906.jpg" style="height: 286px; width: 620px;" title="Grant Park pictured in 1906, before the area was beautified. (Library of Congress)" /></p><p>The fountain&rsquo;s pumps were built to last, but they were also built to impress. But ... impress whom? And why? Bachrach says it&rsquo;s important to understand what was in Grant Park before 1927, when Buckingham Fountain was completed. To set the scene, she explains that the area was mostly ash, trash and debris. &ldquo;For years and years, there was this raw, kind of landfill, just flat dirt terrain,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>The public debated what to do with this eyesore. Some people wanted to erect a massive building that celebrated everything splendid and grand. Inspired by the extravagant French <a href="http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage">Palace of Versailles</a>, this faction craved a building that would truly establish Grant Park as the seat of architectural excellence.</p><p>Mail-order magnate Montgomery Ward opposed such a building. Ward was a major entrepreneur and, like Chicago&rsquo;s founding fathers, he felt the city&rsquo;s lakefront should remain <a href="https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1050707081">&ldquo;Forever Open, Clear, &amp; Free.&rdquo;</a> Plus, his office had a great view of the lake.</p><p>In 1909 Ward got his way, and architect Edward Bennett began building a compromise. Bachrach says Bennett must have asked himself, &ldquo;If you couldn&#39;t have the palace of Versailles as the visual focal point for the park, what would you do?&rdquo; According to Bachrach, Bennett &ldquo;created what was then believed to be the world&#39;s largest fountain ... inspired by a beautiful fountain at Versailles.&rdquo; (That fountain is <a href="http://latone.chateauversailles.fr/en/page/the-latona-fountain/history-of-the-latona-fountain">the Latona Basin</a>, to be precise. And Buckingham Fountain is about twice its size.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BuckinghamArchival%28JB%29%281%29%20%281%29.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Buckingham Fountain in construction before its opening in 1927. (Photo courtesy Chicago Park District)" /></div><p>Bennett had found the perfect balance; his fountain would celebrate the architectural grandeur that was in vogue at the time, without obstructing the view of the lakefront. But he had a problem: Taxpayers would not fund such an opulent project, no matter how unobtrusive its design. So Bennett approached philanthropist Kate Buckingham, whom Bachrach describes as a real character.</p><p>&ldquo;She was known for being very sort of cavalier,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;She was a woman who would speak her mind. I&#39;ve heard she didn&#39;t mind using bad language occasionally.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/kate buckingham.jpg" style="height: 376px; width: 250px; float: right;" title="Kate Buckingham, 1930. (The Art Institute of Chicago)" /></div><p>Buckingham&rsquo;s family had made a fortune in grain elevators and she was the last remaining heir. Bachrach says that Buckingham asked Bennett and his team how much the fountain would cost. According to Bachrach, Bennett gave an estimate of about $300,000.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">Ever the generous woman, Buckingham decided to fund the fountain and to name it in memory of her late brother, Clarence. She liked the idea of building a beautiful, democratic space where everyone from secretaries to executives could come eat their lunches, chitchat and enjoy the lake.</div><p>Bennett&rsquo;s final design was meant to celebrate Lake Michigan, with one bronze seahorse for each of the four states bordering the lake. All of the bronze work was done by an up-and-coming French sculptor named Marcel Loyau, who was later awarded the <em>Prix National</em>, a prestigious French art award, for designing the fountain&rsquo;s sculptural elements.</p><p>Clearly, construction wasn&rsquo;t cheap. &ldquo;By the time all was said and done, she donated slightly over a million dollars,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;Which included $750,000 to build the fountain and a $300,000 endowment.&rdquo; (All told, this adds up to more than <a href="http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm">$13 million in today&rsquo;s figures</a>.)</p><p>Finally, on August 26, 1927, The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain was ready for the public.</p><p>&ldquo;At the time that it was dedicated, they had a lot of hoopla, they knew this was a big deal,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;John Philip Sousa&#39;s orchestra played <em>Pomp and Circumstance</em>. ... Tens of thousands of Chicagoans gathered, they say 50,000. ... And, of course, Kate Buckingham was in attendance.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Does the fountain still captivate?</span></p><p>Buckingham Fountain made quite the impression on the citizens of Chicago. A week after the dedication, a <em><a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1927/09/04/page/1/article/fountain-adds-new-beauty-to-chicagos-life/index.html">Chicago Tribune</a></em> columnist waxed poetic:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;In a week the Buckingham fountain has captured the imagination of the town, enlarged its aesthetic sense, and done it spiritual good. &nbsp;&hellip; It is the lyric of the lake. It will never grow old or commonplace.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>But, almost 100 years later, does Buckingham Fountain still capture the city&rsquo;s imagination?</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FlP2aTqkJas?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s certainly Chicago&rsquo;s calling card. If there&rsquo;s an establishing shot of the Windy City in a film or <a href="https://youtu.be/FlP2aTqkJas?t=4m32s">a television series</a>, chances are it depicts Buckingham Fountain in the foreground, juxtaposed with Chicago&rsquo;s modern skyline just behind. Pick up <a href="https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/4b/c5/74/4bc57416918be23dd90b96a8a5271a41.jpg">a tourist brochure of Chicago</a>, and it&rsquo;s likely that Buckingham Fountain is one of the first images you&rsquo;ll see inside. In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama gave his victory speech in Grant Park as throngs of people encircled the fountain to listen to him speak. And, there are more than a few videos floating around the Internet of different flash mobs dancing in front of the fountain before someone inevitably gets down on one knee and pops the question. (<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_l7Gf6mEOY">She says yes</a>).</p><p>For an informal survey, I talk to tourists zipping around on segways, a model posing for the camera in a long, white dress, and people cooling off in the fountain&rsquo;s spray. Everyone I talk to is impressed with this place, including Kevin Doerksen, a native Chicagoan who runs a professional tour company. He says that when people visit the city, Buckingham Fountain is on the top of his itinerary, but not necessarily for the site&rsquo;s historical merits. With a shrug, he explains that people want to see the fountain from the opening credits of the nineties sitcom, &lsquo;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8t5cOjlEPU">Married With Children</a>.&rsquo; Inevitably, he says, &ldquo;We always want to come down and see the Al Bundy Memorial Fountain.&rdquo;</p><p>Barabas Shane from Atlanta, Georgia, beams as he snaps a picture of the fountain. &ldquo;We love &lsquo;Married With Children,&rsquo;&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I finally got to see it and it&#39;s real,&rdquo; he gushes. &ldquo;I was like, this couldn&#39;t be real. But this is beautiful.&rdquo;</p><p>As the <em>Tribune</em> writer predicted, it seems Buckingham Fountain has grown neither old nor commonplace, after all.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AlanIreland9-1%28AI%29%281%29.png" style="height: 384px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Curious Citizen Alan Ireland inspired our investigation into fountain and its history. (Courtesy of Alan Ireland)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Alan Ireland, Curious Citizen</span></p><p>Alan Ireland, 35, grew up in north suburban Libertyville. When Ireland was a kid, his family would frequently take trips into the city. &ldquo;We always made it a point to walk down towards Buckingham Fountain, just to watch all the pumps go,&rdquo; Ireland explains. &ldquo;So it was always just kind of a really cool, neat fountain, cause you don&#39;t see a lot of those in America and the magnitude of it is pretty awesome.&rdquo;</p><p>Ireland&rsquo;s interest in pumps runs in the family. In fact, he oversees operations and sales for the family business, Ireland Heating and Air Conditioning. Ireland explains that his work entails everything from &ldquo;forced air and hot water pumps, water pumps, and things of that nature for both residential and commercial facilities in the northern suburbs.&rdquo;</p><p>But Ireland&rsquo;s curiosity about Buckingham Fountain isn&rsquo;t purely technical. &ldquo;I think the inner workings of the city of Chicago and the backbone and the tunnel systems and everything else that keeps the city running ... &nbsp;It&#39;s just really curious to see the marvels that nobody really looks at or even thinks about on a daily basis.&rdquo;</p><p>Ireland now lives in Chicago&rsquo;s Andersonville neighborhood. In his spare time, he is a member of the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association.</p><p><em>Chloe Prasinos is an independent reporter and producer based in Chicago. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/chloeprasinos" target="_blank">@chloeprasinos</a>. </em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Buckingham8-18(AT)(1).jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Alison Troldahl, left, and daughter, Milayna Boswell, right, break from their segway tour to talk with producer Chloe Prasinos, center, about the fountain. They only asked for a selfie in return. (Courtesy of Alison Troldahl)" /></div></p> Fri, 04 Sep 2015 14:52:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/nice-pipes-inner-workings-buckingham-fountain-112844 The mayor, the architect and the bridge that was not to be http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2012-08/mayor-architect-and-bridge-was-not-be-101945 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Queen's Landing (Model Shot - Looking East through Buckingham Fountain).jpg" style="height: 303px; width: 620px; " title="" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In the wake of last week&#39;s musing about the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2012-08/what-might-have-been-ill-fated-chicago-spire-101922"> ill-fated Chicago Spire</a> designed by Santiago Calatrava, the good folks at architecture and engineering firm Epstein reminded me of an earlier unbuilt Calatrava project: in Chicago: The Queen&#39;s Landing Bridge.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Proposed in 2001, twin cable-stayed pedestrian bridges would have crossed Lake Shore Drive at Buckingham Fountain, allowing people and cyclists to connect to the lake at one of the most critical points. Epstein was picked for the project and brought in Calatrava.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;I think the design is quite beautiful,&quot; remembers Epstein Director of Design Andrew L. Metter who worked with Calatrava on project. &quot;I think it really would have enhanced the connection between the city and the lakefront, but it also would have been an architectural landmark that would have been quite appropriate.&quot;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Snagging Calatrava was a coup, particularly in 2001 as the architect, strtuctural engineer and artists was gaining international fame with dramatic, <a href="http://smu.edu/newsinfo/releases/m0011photos-b.html">harp-like bridges</a> were being envied (and copied) around the world.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">So what happened to the bridge? In short, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley couldn&#39;t be sold on it.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">I was a mayoral deputy chief of staff then who was part of a team advising the mayor on the project in the spring of 2001. Daley was concerned about the expense of the bridges and whether the structures were so elaborate they would block views of the lake. And given the city&#39;s still astonishing decision in 2005 to erect snow fences at that crossing, the mayor, for a while at least, wasn&#39;t convinced people should cross there at all.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Thankfully the snow fences disappeared and the city has quietly entertained other proposals for Queen&#39;s Landing overpasses or underpasses. But not the Calatrava design.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Still, 11 years on, the bridge is worth revisiting, if only on this blog. The above model photo, courtesy of Epstein, shows the bridges would have flanked Buckingham Fountain and curved as they crossed Lake Shore Drive. The low-profile bridge decks were intended to preserve sight lines from the north toward the Museum Campus at Roosevelt, Metter said. The image below shows the bridges from the south looking north: (BTW: the spot is called Queen&#39;s Landing because England&#39;s Queen Elizabeth stopped there in 1959 during her only visit to Chicago as part of a celebration honoring the opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway.)</div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Queen%27s%20Landing%20%28Model%20Shot%20-%20Looking%20South%20on%20LSD%29.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 287px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Here is a watercolor done by Calatrava showing the bottom side of&nbsp; bridge. Water would run down the blue steps to the left where the bridge touches the ground:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Queen%27s%20Landing%20%28Calatrava%20Water%20Color%29.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 419px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Calatrava lobbied hard for the project and sent the mayor a bound book of watercolor paintings he did detailing the project (Why didn&#39;t I swipe that book for myself when I had the chance?). And I arranged a meeting between the two in Daley&#39;s office in 2002 in which they talked about the potential of other bridge projects--but not this one.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;Now there is a movement to see infrastructure as multifunctional and as [being able to support] alternative means of transportation ... and being part of a larger network of transportation,&quot; Metter said. &quot;This connects to the bike paths, pedestrian paths. This would have been one of those early pieces.&quot;</div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 27 Aug 2012 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2012-08/mayor-architect-and-bridge-was-not-be-101945 Chicago's Buckingham Fountain opens for season http://www.wbez.org/culture/chicagos-buckingham-fountain-opens-season-99039 <p><p>Chicago's famous lakefront fountain has opened for the season.</p><p>The Chicago Park District announced Thursday that Buckingham Fountain is operating daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. through autumn.</p><p>The popular fountain is one of Chicago's most recognizable images with its towering stream of water and evening light shows.</p><p>The fountain shoots water from a center jet 150 feet into the air during a display every hour on the hour. Beginning at dusk, the fountain's major display is accompanied by a 20-minute light and music show. A final display begins at 10:35 p.m.</p><p>Buckingham Fountain was dedicated on Aug. 26, 1927, and has become a favorite backdrop for tourist snapshots, wedding photographers and filmmakers.</p></p> Fri, 11 May 2012 08:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/culture/chicagos-buckingham-fountain-opens-season-99039