Tour offers new view of Buckingham Fountain

July 15, 2009 5:29:58 PM PDT
Chicago residents and visitors have been enjoying the beauty of Buckingham Fountain since 1927. It's a landmark that makes summer in the city more spectacular. The Chicago Park District is beginning a new tour of the old fountain that is all in the Buckingham basement.

Buckingham Fountain isn't just a lot of water, it's a work of art. And it's a gift to all of us from Kate Buckingham, who in 1927, donated $1 million to build the fountain in memory of her brother Clarence. Now we are about to get a new view of Kate's gift.

"We are starting a series of underground tours. And so people will have a rare opportunity to come and learn more about the fountain and see how it works by going down underneath," said Julia Bachrach, Chicago Park District historian.

One-and-a-half million gallons of water spitting and spouting, and it's been going on for 82 years. Chicago Park District historian Julia Bachrach is about to show us how it all happens.

The ancient controls are still here, but now there's a more modern control panel. However, you get the feeling that the ghost of Kate Buckingham is not far away.

And now the problem: the decades-old plumbing in the fountain is giving way. It has to be replaced. And down below in the sub-basement the electric motors somehow are still pumping.

"These are the original motors from 1927," said Bachrach. "They have to be constantly repaired...There will be seventeen motors to replace these three."

For safety reasons, visitors will not get this deep into the basement, but they will get a good look down here. The tours will take place on Fridays at noon and 12:30, and visitors will get to play with the controls and turn some spouts on and off.

It costs $50, but this is a fundraiser.

"There's a lot of problems with the piping. There's a lot of leaking, cracking. The entire thing will be taken apart and rebuilt," said Bachrach.

This third phase of the fountain's restoration begins in September and runs until spring. The cost is $20 million.


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