Historic Esplanade dog fountain to flow once more
For years, the large fountain adorned with a stone carving of a serious-looking canine sat dried up and hardly noticed by passersby, despite its towering presence and intricate design.
But now, the historic Lotta Fountain that sits along the Charles River Esplanade finally flows once more, offering pets parched from the summer heat a place to sip water and relax while their owners take in the panoramic views.
Following a restoration project that began two years ago, the Esplanade Association and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation will officially mark the reopening of the fountain with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.
“This creates another spot for another type of park user — the person who comes there with their dog and wants to walk and sit in a lovely place and listen to a fountain,” said Tani Marinovich, executive director of the association, a nonprofit group that works with the state to enhance the park space.
Marinovich said the fountain represents a cultural and historical time period that is often overlooked in Boston and is a tribute to a “phenomenal female role model” who took care of animals.
First built in 1939, the fountain pays homage to Charlotte “Lotta” Crabtree, a philanthropist and renowned actress — she counted President Abraham Lincoln and Harry Houdini among her friends — who spent her final days living at The Hotel Brewster in Boston.
According to the Esplanade Association, when “the petite redhead” died in 1924, at the age of 76, she was the city’s second-largest taxpayer.
Her estate was valued at about $4 million, and the money went into a number of trusts to fund causes important to Crabtree, including assisting animals. In the end, the Lotta Fountain was paid for from an animal fund that was part of Crabtree’s trusts, officials from the association said.
Elements of the stone structure were designed by Katharine Lane Weems, a premier animal sculptor from Boston whose work includes the bronze “Dolphins of the Sea,” located near the New England Aquarium.
On the Esplanade, she created a husky-like dog that stares down from a monolith and into a small pool that fills with water. At the push of a button, the water spills from the mouth of a cat’s head resting near the base of the artwork.
The fountain was first located near where the Hatch Shell is today. It was later moved in the 1940s to make way for the construction of Storrow Drive and is now situated between the Arlington Street and Dartmouth Street footbridges, along the popular river path.
Margo Newman, former board chair for the Esplanade Association, said she isn’t quite sure when the fountain stopped working.
But over the years, it fell into serious disrepair as the costs to keep it flowing mounted. As time progressed, the historical monument became overlooked by people traveling through the river park.
“It became algae-covered, and the landscape around it became overrun,” she said. “But that’s all been fixed.”
Refurbishing the iconic fountain took nine months, according to the association, and included updating and cleaning the stones, repairing the dog and cat sculptures, fixing the drainage and plumbing, and replacing the basin pool with bronze.
The area around the structure was also landscaped and made accessible to people with disabilities.
In all, the project cost about $358,000 and was paid for using funds raised through private donors and the association’s members.
Newman said the project is part of a long-term vision for what the state-owned park should look like. She said 3 million people visit the area each year.
The public is invited to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, she said — and visitors are encouraged to bring along their four-legged friends.
“There are so many people who walk their dogs in the park, and this is a great gift for them,” Newman said. “It’s a great community gathering spot, and what we try to do in the park is revitalize those spaces.”