That's Soooo Cincinnati

Thinking Inside the Square

Aug 18, 2004 at 2:06 pm

To move or not to move, that is the question facing the bronze lady downtown. Smack dab in the central business district's epicenter, the Tyler Davidson Fountain and the square in which it resides is currently the subject of much debate.

Fountain Square was officially born in 1871 when the "Genius of Water" sculpture was dedicated and given to the city by Henry Probasco in honor of his business partner and brother-in-law Tyler Davidson. At the time, though, the 43-foot tall behemoth fountain stood on a rectangular (not square) esplanade in the middle of Fifth Street. By the 1960s, with automotive traffic running on both sides, the esplanade was seen as a traffic hazard. Plans were born to create a true public square for which the fountain could be a centerpiece. By 1971, the fountain was refurbished and moved 30 feet and to a newly dedicated Fountain Square.

Since then, the square has been the site of everything from World Series championship parties to (failed) attempts at the World's Largest Chicken Dance. It's also been the center of a number of First Amendment controversies, including the ban of a Ku Klux Klan cross to a City Hall-sanctioned block on any holiday display save its own.

The square made headlines again this year when revitalization consultants and local business leaders pointed to its remaking as a key to downtown's future.

The latest concepts include eliminating the SkyWalk that carries pedestrians over but not through the Square. The fountain would also be moved — again — to be more visible and more green space would be added to make the block more of a destination than a shortcut.

Public hearings regarding the latest makeover were completed last week, meaning that a decision on what to do with the landmark is expected shortly (see "Square Deal" on page 13). Mayor Charlie Luken, among others, wants the fountain to stay put.

No matter what happens, whether it's remade and revitalized or stays exactly the same, the square will remain the city's geographic and emotional center. Everyone involved agrees with that much.

But the imminent debate over its future will likely reach a fever pitch before something is decided. After all, the passion residents of this city demonstrate toward their treasured landmarks — along with Fountain Square itself — is soooo Cincinnnati.

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