On this lunchtime bike ride, I visited a fountain just down the street from my office. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, at its intersection with Constitution Avenue and 6th Street (MAP), and is known as The Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain. The fountain serves as a tribute to Andrew Mellon, who in addition to being known as a famous Pittsburgh industrialist and financier, also served as Secretary of the Treasury, ambassador to Great Britain, and was the founder of the National Gallery of Art, which the fountain is located just north of.
The round, tiered fountain is comprised of a series of three small-to-large nested bronze basins which empty water into its pebble-lined granite pool. The outer, and largest, bronze basin is engraved with the twelve signs of the zodiac, each sitting in its correct astrological position for the sun’s rays. And the top basin houses a spouting jet that shoots a stream of water up to twenty feet in the air, before falling back down and cascading through the tiers and into fountain’s base. Surrounding the fountain is a seven-foot wide granite walkway, and a semi-circular granite bench with an inscription that reads, “1855.Andrew W. Mellon.1937; Financier Industrialist Statesman; Secretary of the Treasury 1921-1932 Ambassador to Great Britain 1932-1933; Founder of the National Gallery Of Art 1937; This Fountain Is A Tribute From His Friends.”
The fountain was dedicated during a ceremony on May 9, 1952, which was presided over by President Harry S. Truman. And in 1993, when the fountain was surveyed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! Program, it was still described as “well maintained.” However, over the past quarter century the fountain had fallen into a state of disrepair. In fact, beginning in 2008 the fountain was no longer operational. So on September 25th of last year, the National Park Service transferred custody of the fountain and the surrounding triangular park to the National Gallery of Art, so that it could be restored.
The restoration and renovation of the fountain and site was divided into two phases. The first phase of the project included conservation of the three-tiered bronze fountain, revival of the original landscaping plan, and replacement of sophisticated mechanical waterworks that power the fountain spout and cascades. That phase was completed earlier this year, and was unveiled on March 17, 2016. Phase two of the project includes rehabilitation of the plaza and memorial bench around the fountain, and is scheduled to be completed in the summer of next year.
Given the newly restored condition of the fountain itself, and the ambitious schedule for the remainder of the project, at least according to D.C. standards, I think it’s a shame that ownership of many other fountains in the city cannot immediately be transferred to the National Gallery of Art.