Suitable Tributes

By Jim McCloskey

Few who shape the water will ever make as profound an aquatic mark on the world as did landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

He’s long been a favorite of mine, and we’ve called attention to his work and influence on more than a few occasions in the pages of WaterShapes and on WaterShapes.com.  Along with Thomas Church and very few others, he defined the way we all look at decorative and recreational water and did much to guide all of us toward greater enjoyment of the life aquatic.

Maybe it’s about time for us to start returning the favor to him – and to other watershaping pioneers.

The thought crossed my mind when I read that, just last month, the four downtown fountains Halprin designed for Portland, Ore. – his triumphant “Portland Open Space Sequence” – had been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

I wrote about the Ira Keller Fountain – my personal favorite of that iconic quartet – in a Travelogue for the August 22, 2012 edition of the WaterShapes EXTRA newsletter.  The other three installations are nearly as wonderful, and all four are within walking distance of one another, connected by paths that make them easy to find and enjoy.  They and their plazas were designed in the 1960s as part of a major urban renewal campaign and formed exactly the sort of magnetic core the city needed to draw people downtown again.

As with all aging watershapes, Halprin’s Portland fountains are due for some attention.  The great thing about their new, registered status is that it means they will be preserved as national treasures instead of being left to degrade and perhaps fall to ruin.

This leads to a bigger question – and my point in writing this time:  How many other watershape treasures out there are in need of historic-places registration?  As I finished reading about Halprin’s Portland fountains, my thoughts immediately ran toward San Francisco’s oft-maligned Vaillancourt Fountain and multiple fountains in Kansas City that seem to be greatly at risk.  And I would hope that at least some of the many grand, old public swimming pools in current danger of demolition around the country might, if examined in their historical contexts, merit consideration as landmarks-to-be.

The process of registration flows through state historic preservation agencies, which nominate worthy landmarks for consideration by the national registry.  My suspicion is that local historical societies (almost every town of much substance has one) play an important role here in channeling requests to the state level.

So please take a look around your own communities, contact local historical societies and consider what might be done to ensure the preservation of water-related landmarks that might be at risk in neighborhoods near you.  In many cases, all these wonderful watershapes really need is an advocate to get involved and start the ball rolling.

I’m on the lookout for my own cause now – and I hope you will be, too.

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