Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Wallach Fountain at the Point

One of my favorite sights in Hyde Park is walking out from the tunnel under Lake Shore Drive and seeing the sleeping fawn on her pedestal--Hyde Park's anima locus. She was always destined to sit here, even before the Point itself. The Point was created in the late 1920s when the lakefront was expanded. The photo at this link shows the landfill beginning:

Apparently the Point didn't look at all the way it does now before 1936, when the WPA stepped in, creating the tunnel under what was then called Leif Erickson Drive and putting in the electrical, water, and sewer systems. Alfred Caldwell designed a landscape of limestone revetments meeting the waters of the lake, an open meadow, native plants, stone council circles, and a stone fieldhouse.

As the Point took shape according to Caldwell's vision, the grandchildren of David Wallach recalled that their grandfather, who had died in 1894, had left  $5000 (a fortune) to the city for a fountain at the intersection of 55th Street and the Outer Drive that would serve both "man and beast." In 1937, they sued the city for an accounting. The famously corrupt Park District grudgingly agreed to a fountain, and so the Wallach fountain was finally commissioned. Since horses were not allowed on the far side of Leif Erickson Drive, the "beasts" the bequest served became the myriad dogs who flock to the Point. A committee of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion tried to get the location changed to 47th and the Drive, but luckily Wallach's will was specific that it be at 55th and the Drive.

The commission for the fountain went to Mr. and Mrs. Hibbard of 1201 East 60th Street--Frederick Hibbard and Elizabeth Haseltine. Frederick took on the design of the base and Elizabeth, an assistant to Lorado Taft and an instructor at the University of Chicago, took on the design of the statue for the top. She studied animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo, looking for the right animal to suit Caldwell's vision, finally settling on the sleeping fawn. Her clay model was cast in bronze at the famous Gorham Company, Providence, Rhode Island.

Frederick created the base  "along modernistic lines" using Dakota Mahogany granite mined near St. Cloud, Minnesota. There are three fountains for humans on each side and the back, and one fountain for "beasts" at the front. There are abstract floral motifs in the polished granite. The polish enables the stone to withstand the weather. It was dedicated in December 1939, and there she slept through the USO picnics at the Point during the war, the huge crowds of sunbathers during the 1950s, and the Nike missile installation of the 1960s. There she slept until 1981, when one day she disappeared.

A dog walker came out from under the tunnel on October 21 and realized there was no fawn. The dog walker immediately contacted the alderman and the police. The Hyde Park Herald printed her picture and an anonymous donor offered $200 for her recovery, no questions asked, but to no avail.

Fawns sleep all tucked up under brush, even with predators stalking about. They won't move until their mothers return. Haseltine's fawn also waited. A Hyde Parker, poking around a salvage warehouse, suddenly spotted her tucked up and hiding among the architectural detritus. He called the alderman and the Area One crimes unit and the fawn was safe again.

When it became known that she had been fenced to the salvage warehouse on October 8 and the full-time Park District supervisor whose office was in the Point fieldhouse hadn't noticed her missing for two whole weeks and hadn't bothered to report the park benches that had been chopped up and vandalized at the same time, the citizens of Hyde Park were incensed. As the Herald said, the patronage-ridden bureaucracy of the Parks could care less about a "small charming beloved landmark in a small charming beloved South Side park" and so the citizens organized the Friends of the Point--and the Park District has had the citizens of Hyde Park to deal with ever since--the fawn's revenge.

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