Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains Author Tells Us Where to Find Bubbling Beauties
Chicago News spoke with award-winning journalist and author Greg Borzo who wrote the beautiful picture book Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains published this year. Borzo has written several books about Chicago, bicycling, transportation and history. To share his passion for these subjects, he gives talks and tours for various organizations, including the Chicago History Museum, Chicago Cycling Club and Forgotten Chicago. He lives in the South Loop to better enjoy all the art & architecture, culture & history, biking & “L” and writing & reading opportunities that Chicago offers.
Chicago News: Can you tell us a little about your background? What other books have you written?
Greg Borzo: I’m trained as a journalist (NU Medill School of Journalism). Career highlights include seven years as business reporter/editor at the American Medical News, the (now defunct) weekly newspaper of the AMA; eight years as the science writer at the Field Museum; and a couple of rounds as a science “News Officer” at the University of Chicago, where I continue to freelance. The books I’ve written are RAGBRAI: America’s Favorite Bicycle Ride, Chicago Cable Cars, Where to Bike Chicago: Best Biking in City and Suburbs and The Chicago ‘L.’
CN: What gave you the idea to write about Chicago’s water fountains?
GB: While giving tours of Chicago for the Chicago History Museum, we would often pass a fountain. Tour guests would often ask me about a fountain, often saying that they never noticed the fountain before, even though it was in plain sight. This made me research a couple of fountains and sparked my curiosity.
CN: Do you have a favorite water fountain?
GB: The one I’m sitting next to, looking at and listening to.
CN: What are the must-see water fountains for a tourist to see if they had just an afternoon to sight see?
GB: Buckingham Fountain, Crown Fountain, Fountain of the Great Lakes, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fountain, Centennial Fountain, and the several fountains at the base of the Aon Center.
CN: How do modern water fountains differ from the old ones? How do they recycle water fountains?
GB: Modern fountains tend to be more interactive and are designed to look attractive all year around. Some of them use less water in an attempt to be more green. Very few fountains are recycled. One example: the first fountain in Printers Row Park reappeared in Garland Court several years after it was removed. More typically, when a fountain is removed it’s gone forever. One example: the very successful Gateway Park Fountain by WET Design was removed and replaced by a completely new Polk Bros. Park Fountain.
CN: Does the city plan to build more water fountains in the future? Do you think we need more?
GB: I hope so. I honestly don’t know. But new fountains have been going in along the Riverwalk, so I look at that as a good sign, as evidence of city support for fountains. Yes, we need more and more fountains. In a City of Neighborhoods, each neighborhood should have one or more fountains to help express its identity. In a city with so many ethnic groups, each group should have one or more fountains to help celebrate its heritage. Chicago has a lot of hard, bare concrete and many open plazas just begging for a fountain.
CN: You write that Kansas City is the City of Fountains. I was just in NY and they seemed to have many magnificent water fountains as well. How do they compare?
GB: Kansas City claims to have more fountains (per capita) than any other U.S. city. It celebrates fountains exuberantly, energetically and continuously. I visited NYC for this book and, yes, it has many fountains. But I have not researched the fountains of NYC. I can say that it is said to have the oldest decorative fountain in the U.S.: the City Hall Fountain, 1842.
CN: What is this city’s oldest water fountain?
GB: Drexel Fountain (1883) at Drexel Blvd. and 51st St. (See pp. 10-13).
CN: What was the most interesting thing you found out when researching about Chicago’s water fountains?
GB: Most interesting to me was the fact that we have so many interesting, attractive fountains and yet they are under appreciated, even unnoticed. I’ve discovered more than 135 and counting, outdoor, publicly-accessible fountains, all within the city, itself. They comprise a free, outdoor museum of fountains, some of which were designed by world-class artists and architects.
CN: What do you recommend our city should do in terms of educating or celebrating water fountains here?
GB: Most importantly, the city should do a better job of maintaining its fountains. Many of them don’t run; others are in deplorable condition. In addition, the city should promote its fountains through events, competitions, parties, etc. There’s lots to talk about and lots to celebrate. How about fountain bike tours? Theater by the fountains? Concerts by the fountains? Having artists paint, draw or photograph the fountains, with the works sold to generate money for fountain maintenance. Running fountains all winter? Letting kids play in the fountains. Building more fountains?
CN: Do you plan to write another book?
GB: Yes, but at this time I’m not sure what the book will be about.
CN: Please add any information you feel is important for our readers to know about your book.
GB: Fountains can help cool and soothe the big, hard city of Chicago. They bring people together. And they can act as a portal for Chicagoans and tourists, alike, to learn about and better understand the city.
While Chicago is known for tall skyscrapers, great museums, stunning architecture and dynamic performing arts, it’s time to shine a spotlight on its fountains. We have hundreds of books about Chicago, but “Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains” is the first comprehensive look at our water tossers. It will help people discover this precious yet hidden asset.
All photos credit: Julia Thiel