The Burchell Fountain is no more.
Modesto, a community always in search of identity and historical significance, has quietly skimmed off this once-lovely landmark, leaving the crossroads of the city with drug stores and fast-food places. Where is our civic pride?
All of this demolition work was accomplished behind a screen fence, apparently in hope no one would notice.
It is sad, because while Modesto continues to search for an image and identity, this 45-year-old landmark became the victim of neglect and politicking.
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Watching the destruction this week behind the screen, I was joined by a man who stood quietly and took a few pictures. I introduced myself as a close associate of the Burchell family, who donated the funds to create the fountain. He shook his head and said, “I remember bringing my children here on warm evenings. We would sit and watch the fountain and the colored lights. We miss those moments.”
Having sat silent and dry for many years, the fountain likely is not even a memory for many of our current residents. When it was first engaged, Modesto’s population was only about 50,000. Now more than four times that many call Modesto home, and all are denied the mellow sight of this once-lovely place.
The late Irvin and Esther Burchell wanted to give something back to the community that would be a lasting tribute to the place where they began their nursery business and raised their family. I was Irvin’s accountant and financial adviser, and we decided his gift would be made to the city of Modesto, which, in turn, would work closely with the Modesto Irrigation District to make this monument a reality.
Somehow this partnership failed. Neither the city nor MID would assume full responsibility for the maintenance and beautification of this monument. When the pumps failed after 25 years of operation, both agencies simply walked away. What they left behind was a disgraced hulk instead of a once-lovely site.
Over the years, different service clubs, garden societies and individuals have attempted to maintain the landscaping. However, each of these attempts failed and plants overgrew the site. Soon, vagrants and drug users began to take up residence around it as both agencies continued to turn away with blind eyes.
When this blight first became apparent, the developer of the adjacent shopping center drew up plans to move and incorporate this fountain into his center. But the plan he presented to the Burchells and the city priced out at more than $500,000, and no one was interested in digging up so much money just to enhance a private shopping area. Now, instead of an open courtyard design, this major intersection has back walls next to the avenue.
Adding insult to injury, neither MID nor the city of Modesto had the decency to contact the Burchell family and warn them that the fountain was about to be torn out. Instead, the screen went up and the fountain came down. (Isn’t it interesting that no other projects along McHenry have been done behind a screen to conceal the activity?)
The large rocks that were an integral part of the original design were selected from the construction site of Don Pedro Dam. There was also a plaque dedicating the fountain to Irvin and Esther Burchell.
MID project manager John Davis has taken care to preserve both the plaque and the rocks and has assured me the plaque will be returned to the Burchell family. He also assured me he understands the significance of the rocks and that they are being kept in a safe location (they’re far too big for someone to pilfer) until they can be moved somewhere else.
So in the end, an important and lovely part of our community is gone, but at least a few vestiges of it have been preserved.
Dick Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in nonprofits. Send comments to email@example.com.