Cass Gilbert, controversy and the James Scott Memorial Fountain
July 1, 2014
“Mr. Scott never did anything for Detroit in his lifetime and he never had a thought that was good for the city.”
~ J.L. Hudson
Sometimes when you peer into history, you see things you didn’t expect, and that’s definitely the case with today’s subject. The Cass Gilbert Society’s page on the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle explains that the fountain was completed in 1925, designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert (designer of the US Supreme Court Building in DC), and executed by sculptor Herbert Adams
The fountain was the result of a bequest from millionaire playboy James Scott, a figure of much controversy in Detroit at the turn of the century. Detroit’s fountain of mirth from the excellent Rearview Mirror series in the Detroit News (removed, but see The Wayback Machine) tells of the opposition from prominent citizens and clergy like J.L. Hudson and Bishop Williams that a playboy, loafer, gambler and vindictive practical joker like Scott be memorialized solely because he was able to plunk down a vast sum for his own monument. While public opinion kept the project scuttled for years after Scott’s death, influential Alderman David Heineman and others took up the charge, likely seeing how a vastly expensive fountain could enhance Detroit’s island park.
Speaking to reporters gathered in the office of Mayor Philip Breitmeyer, Heineman said: “I can look around this office and see pictures of men who played poker with Jim Scott. I say the bequest should be accepted.” He also recalled that “Jim always liked Belle Isle and loved to see the children there.”
The mayor agreed with Heineman. “I don’t believe the city has a right to insult any of her citizens by refusing a gift for such a good cause,” he said.
In the end, their view prevailed. It took more than 15 years, but Breitmeyer lived to attend the fountain’s dedication in 1925. Cass Gilbert, the New York architect who planned the Detroit Public Library, won a competition for design of the glistening white memorial at the lower end of the city’s pleasure island.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post previously appeared but sadly the photo was deleted by the owner. It’s one of my favorites so I re-blogged it!