Flint Fountain

Historical Background

1933. Henry S. MacKay, Sr./Julia Bracken Wendt ,17'H x 15'6"W x 15'D. City Hall, First and Main.
The marble fountain on the south lawn of the City Hall was dedicated to Senator Frank Putnam Flint in memory of his effort and commitment to provide Los Angeles with an unlimited water supply. However, rather than commemorating Flint's contributions to the City, the monument, with its stained surface, rusted pipes, dry pool and deterioration, is more appropriately a reminder that seeking an unlimited supply of water for one group will ultimately mean a lack of water for any group.

Frank Putnam Flint (1862-1929) served as Assistant U.S. Attorney during the McKinley administration. As a United States Senator (1905-1911), he played a crucial role in obtaining federal support for the Owens Valley water project. Responding to a bill introduced by Flint that would have sold public lands in the Owens Valley to Los Angeles for $1.25 an acre, Congressman Sylvester C. Smith of Inyo County proposed that water be distributed first to residents of Owens Valley, and then to Los Angeles for household use only. The large land owners in the San Fernando Valley, who planned to use the water for agriculture, strongly opposed the Congressman's amendment. Acting on behalf of their special interest, Senator Flint killed Smith's plan by meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt on June 21, 1906 and persuading him to oppose it. After leaving the Senate, Flint served on the Panama Canal Commission, and at the time of his death, was involved in negotiations that ultimately brought water to Los Angeles from the Colorado River.

Three months after Flint died, the Flint Memorial Association was formed to raise funds through public subscription for a memorial fountain. The President of the fund raising drive was Joseph Scott, who in 1967, was the subject of a public monument. After the City granted permission to install the monument on the south lawn of the City Hall grounds, the Flint Memorial Association sought approval in 1931 from the Los Angeles Municipal Arts Commission for a "wall design" by noted Los Angeles architect John Parkinson. Some members of the Commission objected to the proposed design because they felt it obstructed the view from the steps of the south entrance to the City Hall. Nevertheless, the Commission tentatively approved the design with the proviso that a pool be added to the First Street side of the memorial. A drawing in the Parkinson Archives shows what may be the result of the Commission's recommendation. A wall, approximately 30 feet long and 10 feet high, is topped at its center with a rectangular section containing a bas-relief. Short wings, forming right angles with the ends of the main wall, extend toward First Street to create an enclosure that contains a circular stepped fountain.

In 1932, the Flint Memorial Committee withdrew Parkinson's design and submitted a new design by H.S. MacKay, Sr. MacKay described his design as "influenced by refined Grecian tradition, using straight and elliptical lines only." A Grecian fret ornament decorates the top of the symmetrical fountain and both ends of the monument are embellished with a torch ornament representing leadership. Identical bronze medallions depicting Flint's profile in relief were originally attached to the north and south sides of the fountain. Executed by Julia Bracken Wendt, they represented the only public example in Los Angeles of a portrait in relief--an artform for which Wendt was highly acclaimed.

The Municipal Arts Commission first inspected an early rendition of the medallions in Wendt's studio and later the Flint committee and the Municipal Arts Commission approved a refinement of the design. Flint's wife, daughter and son also liked Wendt's depiction of Flint but wanted to join the Municipal Arts Commission and inspect a model of the medallion while it was attached to the fountain. When the Commission and Flint's family inspected the fountain, Wendt's design was attached on one side and a design by an unknown artist on the other. The Commission preferred the design by the mystery artist, but nine days later they accepted Wendt's composition after being assured by a Commission member who saw the altered design that it was satisfactory. In the mid-1990s, the unique medallions were stolen by vandals. Plans are currently underway to install replicas on the fountain.

Representing the source of unlimited water, water originally spilled out of the shallow pool beneath the bronze medallions into the lower basin. Water then fell from the basin into the ellipsoid pool at the bottom of the memorial, symbolizing the equal distribution of water. A pump then recycled the water. Costing $25,000, the fountain was constructed by the Vermont Marble Company with marble from the same quarry used in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, March 1998.

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