39th Annual Meeting – Architecture/Research and Technical Studies Joint Session, June 3, Consideration of Infrastructure in the Assessment of Historic Fountains by Thomas J. Podnar

Thomas J. Podnar opened with a picture of an anonymous fountain to illustrate the beauty of these structures and their ability to bring beasts together (displayed by horses drinking from the fountain). The talk consisted of three case studies which are summarized below.

The Probasco Fountain in Cincinnati, Ohio (c. 1887) was the subject of the first case. The fountain consists of Quincy granite with a polished bowl and a bronze top. The fountain was located precariously close to an existing roadway, and Podnar was hired to evaluate the condition of the fountain and explore the feasibility of moving it to a safer location. During an investigation of the interior cavity, he found a water main running through the chamber and an electrical box, which was added for display lights. Research of historic photographs revealed that the water display had been diminished and that it was missing elements such as drinking cups. In the end the city decided that it was cheaper to move the alignment of the road (slightly), and the fountain remains in the original location.

The second case study subject was the Athena Tacha in Cleveland, Ohio (c. 1985). The stepped granite fountain was designed to be ½ wet and ½ dry (the latter for students to perch upon). After running for eight years, the fountain was shut off due to issues with water leaks. A condition assessment found that the adhesive sealant, used to control water, had failed and resulted in water leaking to the dry side. Mineral deposits were also found on the stone’s surface, other conditions included broken pipes, corrosion, and inadequately sized equipment. The client also shared photos taken during the installation process, and Podnar noticed that it was the middle of winter. Low temperatures had also caused poor bonding of the stone to the continuous mortar bed. A full re-installation and equipment upgrade was recommended and subsequently executed. Stones were removed and labeled, and when re-installed provisions were made for water seepage to flow to the pool (at the base) and stainless steel clips were added to reinforce connections. Custom-fit pieces of sheet metal were installed to separate the wet and dry sides. The mechanical system was fully replaced (upgraded) and the access grate was designed to match the existing (granite) in galvanized metal, rather than stone, to facilitate maintenance with a lighter unit.

Voyage of Ulysses on Sixth Street in Philadelphia (c. 1977) was the subject of the final case study. The stainless steel fountain was fabricated by Lippincott and designed by David von Schlegell. During the condition assessment, Podnar found that the clear coating (applied to the metal’s surface) is failing and that the water display has been diminished (when compared with historic photographs). The fountain installation is located over a parking garage, and is leaking into it. The mechanical system consists of separated pumps for the two different display elements (high water throw on one side and a continuous waterfall on the other). Other findings include that the screen strainer has never been removed during maintenance and that over the years pumps were replaced with smaller ones. Podnar shared historic photographs taken during fabrication of the artist testing the water flow at Lippincott, emphasizing the importance of water flow in this fountain’s design. Conservation treatments are planned and have not yet been executed.