Motor City, photo by Art Bukowski
I’ve featured a number of photos of the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle on Michigan in Pictures, but never one with this view. Pretty cool!
View Art’s photo bigger on Facebook.
“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!
Sherri Welch has a great feature (with video) in Crain’s Detroit entitled Underneath Belle Isle with the Wizard of Scott Fountain:
Far, far below Belle Isle, in a domed-ceiling building few know exist, Robert Carpenter keeps watch, switching levers, hitting buttons and adjusting valves like a modern-day Wizard of Oz.
But his motions aren’t designed to produce an apparition.
They’re focused on producing a plume of water that jets 20, 30, 40, 50 feet or higher into the air, along with countless other smaller bursts of water.
Carpenter is the unofficial caretaker of Belle Isle’s massive, antique James Scott Memorial Fountain.
It’s not a paying gig for him, but, truly, a labor of love.
Carpenter and his team did, restoring the pearly sheen to its marble basin, sculpted faces, animals and all five tiers.
Being the engineer he is, Carpenter couldn’t stop there.
He began scrutinizing the antique valves, pipes and drains, practically living in the domed structure under the fountain as he prepared it for operation through maintenance that included gingerly flushing its corroded, cast iron pipes and rushing to clean the resulting red water from the fountain’s marble bowl.
Read on for more at Crain’s and definitely check out the video – very cool to see what’s below this beautiful Michigan landmark!
Derek is one of my favorite Detroit photographers, and if you like his photos you can head over to his Flickr page for information about how to get them. In addition to taking great pictures, he often includes a brief story of the subject as is the case with this photo:
A Cheat, A Liar, a Cad, But A Damn Fine Fountain
Not exactly loved by all during his time on this planet, James Scott inherited a fortune from his real-estate-baron Father. He attempted to spend the majority of it during his lifetime, Building a large house ( it wasn’t large enough, he wanted his neighbors house as well. The neighbor declined so James built a huge addition to the front and top of his house, blocking out the sun for 3/4 of the day to get back at him ) , throwing large Gambling Parties oblivious to the amount he may have lost, suing any business partners ( or competitors ) that attempted to move in on what James thought should be his. He was described even by his friends as vindictive.
When he died in 1910 he left his sizeable fortune to the city under the specification that a memorial be created to honor him. It took 10 years for the city to agree to use the money for this purpose, and another 5 to complete this fountain – located on Belle Isle in Detroit. It was designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1925.