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Pittsburgh to reconstruct historic fountains

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 7:32 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely
The city saved the 1935 mold for the bronze fountain by sculptor Frank Vittor outside Phipps Conservatory. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Pittsburgh will add at least two replicas of bronze drinking fountains that once graced its parks in abundance.

City Public Arts Manager Morton Brown said on Wednesday a charitable foundation gave Pittsburgh $50,000 for the fountains, which, like their predecessors, will feature a dolphin motif. Pittsburgh resident Frank Vittor, who was an internationally known sculptor, produced about 30 from a mold he cast in 1935.

"It's our intent not to change the artist's original intent at all," Brown said after briefing City Council. "There are conservators out there who are experts in maintaining the style and historical integrity of the piece."

Brown said most of the original fountains were lost to weather, age or theft. Five still function: two in Schenley Park and one each in East, Mellon and Highland parks, he said.

Vittor, who died in 1968, was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1906. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1917 and became one of the city's most prolific sculptors, creating notable works such as the Honus Wagner statue outside PNC Park and the Columbus statue in Schenley Park. He sculpted busts of Mark Twain, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson.

The city intends to hire a company to make the fountains, which would be cast using a mold created from one of the originals after Vittor's death. The fountains will be accessible to people with disabilities and take about two years to create and install. Brown said he is unsure where they will go.

The surviving originals sit on a stone base and consist of a square shaft with images of dolphins on two sides and a fountain and bowl on top. People in wheelchairs can't access them because the shafts are too high. Brown said the city intends to have a second bowl attached lower on the shafts of the new fountains.

Elizabeth J. Tata, president of the Laurel Foundation, Downtown, said the foundation wanted to help Pittsburgh preserve its public art and Brown showed her the fountains one day during a tour.

"We just thought it would be a good idea to bring something old back into the city," Tata said. "They're just very, very pretty (fountains)."

The money will pay for at least two fountains, Brown said.

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the project fits the mayor's PreservePGH plan to protect historical and cultural assets.

"They're not only a fountain, they're a piece of art," she said.

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