By Ken Trainor
Catholic Church reform, health care reform, budget reform, TIF reform, Marion Street reform, online comment board reform — all are well and good and have their place, but when are we going to discuss something central to the core of our community character?
Like, say, fountain reform.
Rome has Trevi and Tivoli Gardens (and about a thousand others). Chicago has, arguably, the world's greatest fountain (Buckingham), along with the large "face" towers at Millennium Park. Even Las Vegas has the Bellagio with its music-synchronized gushapalooza. Fountains are a point of municipal pride, a commitment to pure aesthetics, a statement of the importance of beauty and whimsy in an all-too-prosaic landscape.
What is River Forest's claim to fame? At the moment, they offer a serious contender for the title of World's Worst Fountain. Located outside a true community gathering place, as successful an eatery as exists in this fair village, La Fontana di Panera, as I like to call it, emits water grudgingly from three sandcastle-style cones that resemble pig snouts, rising from a platform in the center of a large basin painted a non-descript grey — or gray. English is so ambivalent about this color, we can't even agree on how to spell it.
Each of the snouts spouts water with successively diminishing enthusiasm, which is just as well because the highest stream falls and splatters beyond the lip of the basin, and no doubt nips the heels of diners who sit around what is otherwise a lovely, well-patronized outdoor patio. This is the liveliest corner in the otherwise underachieving strip mall known as River Forest Town Center II. The other end is a ghost town, but Panera is a hit — with the retired crowd, stay-at-home moms, young business types and high school kids.
Everything about it, in fact, is vibrant — which makes this miserable excuse for a fountain stand out even more in its dreary inefficiency. Sprinkler systems in the average River Forest lawn are more pleasing to look at than this fountain. Hell, an old-fashioned water sprinkler attached to a hose has more visual appeal.
This is no fountain. It looks more like a collection of broken water pipes — or maybe a shrewd, post-modern statement on cultural anemia.
Town Center II is half empty, thanks to the demise of Linens 'N' Things, and isn't much to look at under the best of circumstances, so maybe we should all start calling this the Frank Paris and Seymour Taxman Memorial Fountain since they were the most responsible for it. Maybe that will get the powers-that-be to do something about this community eyesore.
Since this seems to be River Forest's only public fountain, one would think some maintenance might be in order.
Oak Park isn't much better. The village's most visible public fountain appears to be the "water feature" on the new and improved Marion Street. This low-slung, unobtrusive, perpetually overflowing, marble-bordered rectangle doesn't spout so much as burble from its 10 pipes, but at least it seems to work the way it was intended. Inspiring it is not, but neither is it an affront to the eyes.
Something involving water in front of the Oak Park Public Library appears to belong to the genus fountain, but it is well disguised and easily overlooked.
What does it say about our otherwise beautiful villages that we are essentially fountainless? A prominent fountain once stood in the middle of what is now Mills Park when the Farson and Mills families owned the estate. If Pleasant Home and/or the Park District of Oak Park ever find sufficient funding, a re-creation might one day grace the park again — but that's unlikely.
It seems to me if you're going to install a fountain, even as a decorative afterthought in a commercial strip mall, a little thought ought to be given to the design and it ought to function properly. Otherwise, fill it with dirt, turn it into a giant planter, and put a statue of Frank Paris in the center.
Ornamentation like this makes a statement about how much a village cares about culture. Next time you're at Panera's, take a look and ask yourself if this is an adequate reflection of River Forest's aesthetic sensibilities.