MODESTO — Modesto’s arch proclaims, “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health,” right? But what if the water stops flowing?
Dave Huckaby of Modesto wrote to ask about a water feature in the triangle at the intersection of 19th, H and Burney streets downtown.
“It seemed for some time that the landscaping was overgrown, but I noticed earlier this week it had been cut back,” he wrote. “I also noticed the fountain wasn’t operational, and hasn’t been for some time. Modesto leaders envision a vibrant downtown; now, isn’t this part of it?”
Nancy Howard also asked about the fountain, which she referred to as the Rogers Fountain. (That isn’t the right name; I’ll explain later.)
“I know that they took the homeless park away from behind the Seventh-day Adventist Church nearby and many of the people relocated to under the big pine tree near that fountain,” she said. “Maybe the running water there became an issue of sanitary conditions?”
Nope. There were other issues.
I contacted Julie Hannon, Modesto’s parks, recreation and neighborhoods director. She said a computer programming problem, a wind sensor issue and some vandalism at the site have stopped the flow of water.
“We are working to get the various repairs completed, but it will most likely take up to four weeks to get all the necessary resources together,” she said.
That fountain and landscaping were done in 2003 by the late Ryan Dickerson for his Eagle Scout project.
The Rogers fountain – named the Rogers Drinking Fountain but more commonly known as the Rogers Boy Fountain – once was part of downtown Modesto. In 2005, a group announced plans to re-create it and put it in another downtown triangle, across from Graceada Park. That hasn’t happened, but the fountain has an interesting history.
In 1892, Caroline Rogers DeYoe gave the 15-foot-high Italian marble fountain to Modesto in memory of three family members who died in a 21/2-year period, including her husband, farmer and banker Stephen Rogers; her son, Stimpson Rogers; and her grandson, Stephen Roy Rogers, who died at age 6 from diphtheria. Her grandson was the boy featured in the life-size fountain. He was standing with crossed legs, with one hand on his hip and the other resting on a tree stump.
The fountain was placed on the corner of 10th and I streets and dedicated on Memorial Day 1893. “It was a welcome relief for the thirsty during hot summer days,” according to one report. “It gave a touch of grandeur to the small town of the 1800s,” said another.
At that time, Modesto’s population stood at 2,000, horses and buggies ruled the roads, and the La Grange Dam was under construction. Modesto would soon get its first telephone booth, and Modesto High School’s first graduating class would hold its ceremonies a few years later, in 1886. Elsewhere in America, Buffalo Bill was organizing his first Wild West Show, and Robert Louis Stevenson released his latest book, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
A few years later, the fountain became an obstacle to drivers of the newly popular automobile. So in 1906, the fountain was moved to the County Courthouse Park at 11th and I streets. But over the next decades, it became the target of vandals and pranksters. Sometimes it wore clothes or hats. The statue’s head often was stolen and later returned. By 1953, the head was permanently missing, and the fountain was deemed an eyesore and dismantled.
In 2005, a project to re-create the fountain was announced. It would be placed in the triangle across from Graceada Park at Needham, 14th and L streets. Landscape architect Dan Machado was spearheading the project, which began when a news story revealed that parts of the original fountain were sitting in the city’s corporation yard.
“When I found out that Modesto’s oldest unrestored artifact still existed, albeit in pieces, I just knew I had a project,” Machado said Wednesday. “I knew there would be plenty of people to step forward and pull this off.”
And plenty of folks have joined in the effort, including civil and electrical engineers and other professionals who have donated their time, materials and money. The project “took a nap during the recession,” Machado said, but added, “All of the critical marble pieces have been replicated and are in storage. We’re very pleased with that.”
He said the restoration team was able to save many of the original pieces and fill in with other marble and granite material; the granite is still in “rough shape” and has to be finished. The next step, he said, will be for structural engineers to figure out a way to erect the fountain so it’s stable.
“Back when this was created, they just slapped this thing together,” Machado said. “That thing’s huge, and marble is heavy. We need some engineering for the project. It will take some special stonework and epoxy to make this thing secure.”
He thinks the “construction documents” could be ready by December and the fountain could be dedicated on Memorial Day 2015. Later this year, he said, he hopes to unveil the work that’s been done in a push to encourage folks to get behind the final phase of the project with enthusiasm and some financial contributions, which will ensure the city has funds to maintain it in the future.
“We recently had a project here in Modesto where the arch was restored,” Machado said. “It shows we have a pride in history. It’s the same way with the Rogers fountain. I think this project will be a second win for us. We in landscape architecture call this a jewel and a necklace for the city.”
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at email@example.com, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.