103-year-old Berkeley fountain to gain new life from repairs

Michelle Kim/Staff

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The first of several expected repairs began on the Marin Circle Fountain in North Berkeley on Tuesday morning.

Workers drained the fountain’s pools and employed a cherry picker to remove a filter and pump for replacement. Over the coming weeks, city crews will work with a local nonprofit group — Friends of the Fountain and Walk, or FOFW — to resurface the fountain’s bottom pool, clean away rust stains and replace several light bulbs that started leaking.

While Tuesday’s efforts involved city workers from multiple departments, FOFW has also collaborated with local volunteers, including UC Berkeley students on Berkeley Project day. Once a month, a group of local residents gather to trim hedges, clear debris and make small repairs, as well as maintain the fountain and adjacent balustraded walkway, which runs along the Solano Avenue Tunnel.

John Buchanan, who lives on the Circle and volunteers with FOFW, said the neighborhood was proud of its efforts to maintain and fundraise for the fountain.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “You don’t see that happen a lot today.”

Sara Holmes, president of FOFW, said in an email that the repairs will cost less than $9,000. Between 2011 and 2013, FOFW raised $100,000 to repair more than 80 broken balusters along the walkway and surrounding the fountain. Its efforts to renovate the fountain in 1993 netted over $100,000, including many small, local donations, establishing the resurrected fountain as the largest privately funded public works project in the city’s history.

The fountain, currently at the the roundabout at Marin Circle, was originally designed in 1911. At the time — when Berkeley was a potential candidate for the state’s next capital — the fountain was intended to serve as an entryway to the proposed capital building. In 1958, the fountain was destroyed when it was hit by a runaway truck and was not restored until 1996.

To preserve the fountain’s artwork in case of erosion or a future accident, FOFW plans to use 3D imaging to record the exact dimensions of the fountain. Holmes said it is expensive but “absolutely critical” for preserving the fountain’s design.

For Buchanan, who said he remembers when the roundabout was once a collection of “gross, scraggly bushes,” the fountain’s continued maintenance will have a positive impact on the neighborhood. After the fountain was rebuilt, Buchanan said, the surrounding area felt like it had more of a community feel.

“When you say you live at the Circle, people know exactly where you mean,” he said.

Repairs are expected to take at least two weeks, after which the fountain will reopen.

Alex Barreira covers student life. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.