Down With The Downtown Fountain

By Ryan Loughrey, Staff Writer

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If you’ve traveled downtown recently, you’ve most likely seen the construction occurring in front of the Black Swan Theater. Or, more accurately, the destruction.

City workers are removing the fountain that once stood on the corner of East Main and Pioneer Streets, also known as Chautauqua Square. The marble fountain, which was installed just under 25 years ago, gained notoriety in recent years as a gathering spot for transients as well as its resistance to repair. According to Adam Hanks, a worker for Ashland City Administration, the head structure on the fountain has leaked on and off for years.

The decision to remove the fountain apparently came at the urging from Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who leases the space from the city. As the fountain is city owned, it was put up to bid on January 14th to the community, however the highest bidder turned out the be Ashland’s Parks and Recreation Department with a whopping amount of $2.50. So, the city will continue to own what remains of it and has worked to remove the fountain while contractors hired by OSF are working on removing the adjacent planter box.

After the fountain is removed, the future of the space is not set in stone (nor marble, apparently), but it has been suggested that the area will potentially be used to house a food cart or different community activities that will serve to enliven the area. In the long term, OSF is considering completely redeveloping the property, such as moving the entrance of the Black Swan Theatre closer to the road, however this is simply speculation at this point.

When the news broke that the fountain would be coming down, Facebook responded. Users varied in their comments, with some directing criticism at the city and others blaming transients for the removal. One of the harsher criticisms came Facebook user Sequoia Ahimsa, who asked the rhetorical question “How can you deem Ashland to be an artsy town without allowing murals and destroying artifacts?” Another, Anneliese Villegas, commented “Sad. Should get rid of the transients instead… The plaza is a cold ugly place because of the transients.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ryan Lamanna mentioned that “The corner will, in the future, be used in a much more attractive and constructive ways. Sounds like an improvement to me.” Adam Hanks, who works for the city Administration, shared this more optimistic outlook, saying how the key question now was “How are we, collectively, going to use [the space]?”

City workers, clad in fluorescent yellow and orange, attempted to remove the fountain whole so it could potentially be relocated, but in truth it was never designed to be removed. However, the gargoyle was extracted whole, and chunks of marble were cleaved off in clean sections. The Parks and Recreation Department of Ashland is expected to store these pieces and reuse them in future projects, such as using the marble in benches or in landscaping.

Terry Skibby is a local historian who gave more details on the background of the fountain. It was installed in 1990 and designed by Bill Emmerson, who passed away three years ago. Skibby also made a small 3D print model of the fountain, which can now be found in the Hannon Library on Brent Cummings’ desk.

The removal of the fountain is emblematic of the generally symbiotic relationship that Ashland has with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Although the reactions to the removal of the fountain are mixed, hopefully the area will be changed to strengthen the community. Stay tuned, and try to keep an eye out for the gargoyle in local parks in the future.

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