$165,000 fix-up for fountain at Druid Hill Park Waterworks: As part of a $2.1 million face-lift to the city park, new pipes and pumps are being installed in the lake's centerpiece.

November 11, 1997|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Traveling by rowboats and armed with copper tubes and pumps, a pair of specialist pipe fitters are constructing an aquatic cake, three tiers of cascading and bubbling water in the middle of Druid Lake.

In a few weeks, the restored water centerpiece of Druid Hill Park will send illuminated jets heavenward from the middle of a highly visible reservoir in Northwest Baltimore.

The lake wasn't on fire this week when puzzled drivers spotted puffs of bluish smoke drifting from the dry fountain's circular base. The substance was the airborne particles from the workers' torches as they scuttled nearly a ton of rusted pumps and apparatus preliminary to installing a whole new waterworks.

"We consider it a challenge and are anxious to do a good job. We hope the Druid Hill Park's success will be a model for other parks," said George G. Balog, city director of public works, whose agency is paying for the $165,000 fountain fix-up.

The fountain comeback -- the old pumps surrendered to rust in 1992 -- promises to be a highly visible addition to the 137-year-old city park, where workers are upgrading a list of park amenities that are broken or worn out.

Some upgrades complete

Some of the newly restored parts of the 1860 park -- which attracts about 24,000 visitors each weekend during the summer -- are ready. An upgraded south entrance -- the extension of Madison Avenue -- has a new roadbed, curbs and a sidewalk of bluestone pavers.

City officials recently opened bids for the refurbishment of the tennis courts. Also scheduled is a new children's playground and comfort stations, with a renovation to the Palm House, conservatory and greenhouses. A plant gift shop will be added to the Palm House, the distinctive glass-walled building near Gwynns Falls Parkway and Auchentoroly Terrace.

Last week, bulldozers removed sections of unused asphalt around the 1892 Columbus Monument, a move that will be applauded by those who want to cut auto traffic within the park.

Park workers and their contractors use the off-season to get the rolling greensward, which also includes the Baltimore Zoo, ready for the use it gets during the spring and summer, when its bosky dells and shady groves fill with picnickers and family reunions.

"It's the hub of our league, a very pleasant place to play," said Ray Short, who runs the Christian Co-Ed Softball League, a group whose 500 members use the park's ball fields.

Those who only drive by Druid Lake are most apt to spot the fountain, whose apparatus dated from a day in 1959 when then-Mayor J. Harold Grady pushed a button to start it. The 1959 fountain replaced an earlier water spray that had been in the lake since the turn of the century.

Fountain features

The new illuminated water feature, which sits within the 55-acre reservoir, is designed to resemble a triple-tiered cake. A center jet is to blast water at least 40 feet into the air, with two concentric copper rings capable of sending smaller cascades into the air.

There's lighting too, "six modes per minute," according to the terms of a contract with Fountain Craft, a Patapsco Avenue supplier.

"All we found in there was a couple of duck eggs, very old and hollow," said Cliff McDonald, the Fountain Craft employee who has spent two weeks ripping out old plumbing works from the stubby, circular fountainhead about 600 feet from the shore of the reservoir. He had to ferry each discarded drain, pipe section, relay box and pump across the lake in a metal rowboat.

While he and a partner readied the lake's fountain, a separate crew worked on a chlorination building near the 28th Street Bridge across the Jones Falls Valley. When this construction job is wrapped up, a third crew will stabilize the steep hill that is the reservoir's south and eastward-facing wall.

Tower work

As part of a $2.1 million project, workers will rehabilitate the Moorish Tower, also known as the Baltimore Tower. The eight-sided architectural folly (its windows resemble clovers or club symbols on playing cards) seemingly guards the park's eastern boundary.

Built about 1870, the 43-foot-high limestone-clad faux battlement looks like a figure on a chess board.

"The Moorish Tower was getting ready to fall down," said Pierce J. Flanigan, president of the contracting firm that is repairing the stone tower, and cleaning and regrading the eastern flank of the earth-fill dam that contains the reservoir's water.

Turn-of-the century park visitors climbed the tower's cast-iron staircase to get an expansive view of the Jones Falls Valley and the downtown skyline.

The stairs are closed, but the view remains -- a vista across the Jones Falls Expressway toward the stone tower of City College, the clock on Gilman Hall at the Johns Hopkins University and the rounded dome atop SS. Philip and James Church.

Park advocates have been pestering city officials to fix the crumbling tower for many years. Most recently, its walls have been invaded by weeds and tenacious trees that rooted within crumbling mortar joints.

Flanigan said the stabilization and tower work will take another eight or 10 months.

Early this week, however, workers will float heavy pumps and other pieces of replacement equipment across Druid Lake to the fountainhead. They estimate the installation will take a few more days.

"As soon as you hit the switch, everything should pop right on," said James Eney, one of the fountain's repair workers.

Pub Date: 11/10/97

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