In late May we checked in on the restoration of the Italian Fountain between the Art Museum and Boathouse Row. Conservators painstakingly disassembled, cleaned, and refurbished the fountain and it is ready for after years spent out of order. The landscape surrounding the fountain has also been reworked by designers at OLIN to complement the sculpture.
Previously the fountain was surrounded by thick plantings, ringed with a wide traffic circle. Now the parking and travel lane has shrunken a bit to make way for a plaza that allows pedestrian access to the fountain, with new planters to separate the traffic from the fountain area.
“In the past you could not get up close and personal with the fountain and enjoy it,” said Stephanie Craighead, Director of Planning, Preservation, and Property Management for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Now people will actually be able to sit and enjoy the beautiful sculpture and the sound of the fountain.
Along the plaza composed of permeable brick pavers, designed to manage the site's stormwater, new benches face the fountain and upgraded lighting will highlight the fountain's beauty after dark.
The surrounding planters are being filled with a variety of native species with an eye toward year-round interest. There are low shrubs like Low-bush Blueberry and Dwarf Summersweet, grasses like Purple Lovegrass and Prairie Dropseed, and flowering perennials including Yellow Flag Iris, Mango Meadowbright Coneflower, Moonbeam Coreopsis, and Great Blue Lobelia and Foamflower.
"We chose evergreen hedges of boxwoods and yews, and a palette of flowering perennials with complementary bloom times so there will be flowers from early spring to fall. The structure of the plants, along with the low mounds that were created, will help to create a sense of enclosure to people in the circle enjoying the fountain, while framing views to the fountain from the public spaces around it like the Azalea Garden, the Art Museum, Water Works Drive, and the future island boardwalk," explained OLIN's Jennifer Martel over email.
"The Italian Fountain is literally the hinge between Philadelphia's foremost cultural amenities on the Ben Franklin Parkway and foremost recreational amenities at Fairmount Park," Martel added. "The fountain landscape was designed to highlight the beautifully-restored fountain while contextualizing it in this park framework. We are thrilled that people will be able to enjoy the space in this circle and appreciate the fountain once again."
A ribbon cutting to celebrate the project's completion is scheduled for September 11 at 4:30pm.
You eagle-eyed Streeters might remember that we wanted to know if you could spot the fountain's typo. Mario Ruia got it right: The Italians honored our "Independence" by spelling it "Indipendence."
Updated: August 14, 6:42am with comment from OLIN.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.