By Jake Romero | Gaslamp Landmarks
In 1870, the original half-acre Horton Plaza Park was set aside by Downtown founder Alonzo Horton. The park was constructed across the street from his Horton House Hotel, where the US Grant Hotel now stands.
Through the decades, various changes were made to the plaza and in 1908, architect Irving J. Gill was hired to redesign the park and design its iconic fountain.
Gill would model his fountain after the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a structure erected by the choregos Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of musical performances in the Theater of Dionysus.
The monument is known as the first use of the Corinthian order on the exterior of a building, the last developed of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates has been reinterpreted in many modern monuments and buildings and its influence can be clearly seen in the design of the “Broadway Fountain.”
Gill’s design was classically commemorative; beautiful, yet innovative. It incorporated electric lighting that projected blended colors on spraying water, the first use of such technology in a public water monument.
Louis J. Wilde, banker and part owner of the US Grant Hotel, donated $10,000 to help build the fountain, which was completed in 1910.
Incorporated into the design of the fountain were bronze plaques dedicated to Alonzo Horton, Father Junipero Serra, and Juan Cabrillo, along with a bronze eagle finial, all created by Italian-born sculptor, Felix Peano.
By 1977 the City Council approved changes that would desecrate the plaza and fountain. However, preservation groups like the Save Our Heritage Organisation went into action, successfully galvanizing the community around saving the plaza and fountain.
After redevelopment of the Gaslamp Quarter in the early 1980s, the fountain once again fell into disrepair. In 2012, the city undertook a major renovation of the plaza area with the intent of transforming the park into a revitalized urban park and public gathering place.
Westfield Horton Plaza shopping center partnered with the city in the renovation project and management of the public facility. The new park includes a restored Gill fountain, returning the fountain to its original 1910 appearance and function and it serves as the park’s architectural focal point.
Opening ceremonies for the revitalized Horton Plaza Park and fountain were held on May 4, 2016.
Some interesting facts about the fountain:
• Inscribed in the frieze above the columns is the phrase, “Broadway Fountain for the People.”
• The first sitting U.S. president to visit the Broadway Fountain was Benjamin Harrison.
• In January 1913, unusually cold weather caused the water in the fountain to freeze, a rarity in the San Diego region.
• On Nov. 2, 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy spoke at Horton Plaza to make a last-minute appeal for votes, just six days before the 1960 presidential election.
If you would like more information on the history and wonderful architecture of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation invites you to visit the Gaslamp Museum and the Davis-Horton House located at 410 Island Ave., or visit our website, gaslampfoundation.org.
—Jake Romero is the director of operations of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.