Art Review

The Electric Fountain at City Park

I'm a political junkie, so having the Democratic National Convention here was a treat. And since Denver strategically spiffed up over the last few months in preparation, it was a delight to see our beloved city looking sensational on TV and giving us some civic pride.

There were glamour shots of the Pepsi Center, Invesco Field at Mile High, Union Station, the Civic Center, and, of course, that postcard view of the skyline from City Park, with Ferril Lake and the boathouse in the foreground. But careful observers might have noticed that the traditional shot had undergone a subtle change.

In Ferril Lake is a set of geysers, the central one rising to a tremendous height. At night, the water is lit by colored lights. Called the Electric Fountain (pictured), it might seem like a Las Vegas-style addition to the traditional surroundings, except that it can trace its lineage back to a similar fountain built there a century ago.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, electricity was fairly new, and people went wild for it. Denver had really gotten into the act. So with the Democrats due for their first convention here in summer of 1908, Frederic Darlington, who had a reputation for creating electrified water and light shows, was commissioned to create one for City Park. Darlington built fountains in major cities across this country, but by 2006, the only one remaining was in City Park. Larry Kerecman discovered the ruins of the Darlington in the '80s, but it was only a few years ago that he started an effort to save it.

Now the story gets a little sad. Instead of restoring the fountain, the city's parks and recreation department demolished it and built a reproduction featuring state-of-the-art computerized technology. To a viewer, the effect is doubtless similar to the Darlington original, but from a historic standpoint, it's nothing more than a copy.

Setting aside the moral issue of the real Darlington having been ignobly placed in the dumpster of history, the new Electric Fountain is a nice addition to the park and to that iconic view of Denver.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia