History of the Electric Fountain

Mayor Speer (left) and Frederic W. Darlington (right) at the controls for the 1908 fountain – located in the north tower of the pavilion on the west side of Ferril Lake. The upper set of levers controlled the color filters for the eleven lights and the lower set of levers controlled the twelve water valves.
The labyrinth of pipes and nozzles on the deck of the 1908 fountain.
May 30, 1908
"Mayor Robert W. Speer and F.W. Darlington, an engineer with the Denver Interurban Railway, dedicate the new marvel in City Park Lake—The Prismatic Electric Fountain. The Fountain features electric lighting effects that have not been seen before by the public. Eleven columns of brightly colored light stream through the dramatic changing patterns of water. High in the north tower of the City Park Pavilion, an operator sits at a roll top desk, moving levers to undulate the twelve sets of water features and make the columns of light change color to the sounds of the Denver Municipal Band."
Denver Municipal Facts—May 22, 1909
The Electric Fountain entertains thousands of visitors each year, providing a visual spectacle to accompany musical groups in the bandstand at the edge of the lake. Three people are required to run a fountain show, one at the controls, one in the vault and one at the pump station. It is featured in photo postcards sent around the world and almost from the beginning presents maintenance challenges to the City of Denver. Pipes, valves, nozzles, lighting, wiring, pumps and other equipment are frequently replaced during this period but the fountain shows go on each year. Eventually the plumbing for two water displays is removed from the fountain.
The Darlington fountain lighting is replaced with a new lighting system and controls for musical fountain shows. But continuing problems with the plumbing and electrical systems along with flooding of the fountain vault in the lake lead to the fountain shows being discontinued and the fountain is reduced to a static display of water shooting into the air. Power for the lights is disconnected and the fountain goes dark at night.
Consultants and engineers are hired to design repairs to the Electric Fountain. Several plans are rejected and the estimated cost of the entire project is much higher than expected.
A new pump station for the fountain is constructed in the maintenance building and run for a period of time. However problems with the strainer system shut down the fountain again and there is no money to repair the lights, valves or nozzles on the fountain.
April, 2004
Puzzled by the inoperative hulk of concrete in the middle City Park (now Ferril) Lake, Larry Kerecman visits Dick Gannon and Helen Kuykendall at the Department of Parks and Recreation to discuss the fountain. The reconstruction plans are reviewed and a week later Gannon gives Kerecman a tour of the new pump station and the old fountain vault.

Research at the Denver Public Library turns up the fact that the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the original fountain is just 4 years away. Kerecman proposes a plan to Parks and Recreation to have the fountain restored by May 30, 2008. With Dick Gannon handling the administrative, finance and project management side of the project and Larry Kerecman doing historic research, engineering, design and field work, the two men form a team, pushing the project through channels.
Larry Kerecman continues to document the existing fountain and manually operate the valves for the various water features to see what the remaining water displays look like. Rusted plumbing prevents seeing several of the features in action.

Engineering studies show that the existing fountain vault cannot be repaired economically.

The Montclair Basin Storm Water Improvement Project is announced and the construction of a new Electric Fountain vault is included in the work for the area around Ferril Lake.
The deck of the 1908 Electric Fountain is cleaned by a crew from Drain-O-Rooter, including Jimmy Blissett, the owner. Blissett repairs a number of the broke pipes so that the existing water features can be run one last time to document their shapes and appearances. Hobbs Architectural Fountains is hired to design the new distribution plumbing and nozzle manifolds.
December, 2006
After many years of deterioration and loss of functionality, the 1908 Electric Fountain is torn down after an agreement with the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission is negotiated. The replacement fountain is designed to be identical in appearance to the old one, including replication of the water displays and emulation of the original lighting.
January, 2007
A 20-month project to construct an historically-accurate replica of the original fountain begins. The Department of Parks and Recreation (Dick Gannon), in a unique partnership with the Public Works Department (Tom Blackman) and Denver Water, fund the reconstruction of the fountain. Larry Kerecman (Control Dimensions) provides historic research and overall technical direction for the project and Denver becomes the first city in the world to tackle the technically challenging job of re-creating an F.W. Darlington fountain using modern technology.
April 30, 2007
Mayor Hickenlooper holds a press conference on the deck of the new fountain vault in the middle of Ferril Lake. Ceremonial buckets of water are thrown into the empty lake bed from the fountain to signal the impending completion of the reconstruction of the lake.
June 25-28, 2007
The new center geyser nozzle is installed and operated for the first time on June 25th. The Ferril Lake improvements are dedicated on June 28th by Mayor Hickenlooper.
Summer, 2007
The center geyser is operated for much of the season.
Spring-Summer, 2008
Major construction of the fountain water features and lighting takes place.
May 30, 2008
The Centennial of the dedication of the original Electric Fountain is observed with a demonstration of the first 97 nozzles installed on the new Electric Fountain. The new concrete vault, plumbing, nozzles, electrical system, pump station and control system are being completed for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
August 19, 2008
The new Electric Fountain is dedicated and a crowd of over 700 people enjoys an old-fashioned ice cream social while listening to the Denver Municipal Band. Through the fall, the new fountain delights thousands of visitors to City Park.
December 2, 2008
With an unusually warm fall, the Electric Fountain is run until the Beehive feature is installed. It is then shut down for the season.
March 28, 2009
The Electric Fountain receives a 2009 Westword Best of Denver award for the "Best Resurrection of a Work of Art."
June 26, 2009
During a sudden and violent thunderstorm, the 90-foot column of water from the center geyser of the fountain was struck by lightning. There is damage to some of the colored LED lighting on the fountain deck.

In a curious turn of events, a large fountain in a lake in downtown Orlando, Florida was struck by lightning a month later. Neither fountain had ever been hit by lightning before.
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page last updated: 4/7/2010