By Dave Fidlin
After decades of neglect, suggesting just a few years ago that the Broadway Fountain faced an uncertain future would be an understatement.
But the 107-year-old landmark, situated in the heart of Horton Plaza Park, not only has a solidified future today, but it is shining brightly amid a larger scale restorative effort and a robust public-private partnership.
Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), the group putting a spotlight on restorative efforts in San Diego, noted the fountain’s renewed glimmering beauty recently. Three organizations — the city of San Diego, Civic San Diego and property management company Westfield — were honored with SOHO’s Partners in Preservation award this year.
In May, Amie Hayes, SOHO’s historic resources specialist, made note of the significance surrounding the resurged park and fountain during the group’s annual People in Preservation awards ceremony.
Hayes and others within SOHO attributed “the ravages of time” and “social engineering” to the park’s wane over a prolonged period.
“Everything that was once attractive about the park was made inhospitable and uncomfortable to keep homeless people from camping out,” Hayes said at the ceremony. “Broadway Fountain, its colorfully illuminated centerpiece, stopped flowing for years.”
When the Broadway Fountain was on shakier ground, SOHO stepped up on multiple occasions — three, in fact — to save it from dismantling. The iconic landmark is such a prominent part of SOHO’s efforts and mission statement that the fountain is featured within its own logo.
Since Horton Plaza Park and the Broadway Fountain did not fall into disrepair overnight, it stands to reason the restoration effort followed a similar trajectory. The end result is linked to a collaborative public-private partnership between the city, Civic San Diego and Westfield, which owns the adjacent Horton Plaza mall.
Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit corporation that tackles issues such as neighborhood revitalization, spearheaded the restoration work.
While the historical component was a driving force in the effort to breathe new life into Horton Plaza Park, Daniel Kay, Civic San Diego’s principal engineer of public works, said the space presented broader opportunities as well.
“Downtown is lacking a lot of park and public space,” Kay said. “This is a perfect gathering space.”
The public-private partnership calls on Westfield to manage Horton Plaza Park during a 25-year window that began last year, when the space officially reopened. Under terms of the agreement, Westfield is renting out the space and programming the more than 75 events held within it each year.
In a statement, Kim Brewer, vice president of development with Westfield, said the revitalization presents new opportunities for the company and community as a whole.
“This is not a park in the traditional sense,” Brewer said in the statement. “[It is] a world-class urban plaza and entertainment destination in the heart of the Gaslamp.”
Jodie Brown, a senior planner with the city of San Diego, said the municipality itself also wanted to offer assistance in any way possible to ensure the revitalization effort went off without a hitch.
The city’s contribution included in-house expertise from Brown and other officials, in addition to hosting public meetings on the full scope of the project.
“This is an asset to the city,” Brown said. “This is a historically designated site, and it is one of the oldest historically designated sites in this city.”
The heavy lifting on the restoration of the park and fountain began about three years ago, and the wraps were taken off May 4, 2016, during a much-ballyhooed grand reopening celebration.
Kay gleefully proclaims that the fountain is flowing just as it did when it was first installed in 1910.
“There were a lot of unintended and small construction issues,” Kay said. “We worked hard to make sure all the new equipment would marry up with the fountain.”
The intricate design includes pumping water from the pool to an upper-level dome and then allowing it to cascade back down. As part of the restoration, the fountain features also more than 40 lights.
Although the process was intensive, Kay said it also was rewarding. He went so far as to describe it as “fun.”
“When you put it back together and see how it once was — it’s impressive,” he said.
Brown agreed, saying she marvels at the fountain every time she sees it.
“It’s great to see it restored,” she said. “It’s a truly beautiful site. I think it looks fantastic.”
SOHO is not the only organization to tip its hat to Civic San Diego, the city of San Diego and Westfield for the collaborative effort.
The entire Horton Plaza Park site is a nominee in this year’s Orchids and Onions juried competition, which is overseen by the San Diego Architectural Foundation.
Orchids and Onions is aimed at taking a look at the best and worst in the city’s urban landscape. Orchids are handed out to visually appealing sites, while onions are assigned to the other end of the spectrum.
For more details on Horton Plaza Park and what it has to offer, visit hortonplazapark.com.