The facelift for the Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain at Hart Plaza will begin Tuesday and stretch into spring, the city of Detroit announced.
It’s been a long time coming for the iconic fountain, which is located smack in the middle of Hart Plaza, according to Detroit’s Construction and Demolition Director, LaJuan Counts. In a news release, Counts said the entire process will take several months and include removing panels from the fountain’s dome, along with repairing water jets and lighting before reassembling the masterpiece.
“The prospect of giving this iconic space a much-needed facelift and restoring the fountain to its former glory fills us with immense pride,” said Counts. “This fountain is truly one of a kind, and reviving it is no small feat.”
The makeover of the fountain will come as a first since its original conception in the late 1970s.
The plaza’s history
French Columnist, Antoine de la mothe Cadillac, arrived at the site now known as Hart Plaza in 1701. He built Fort Pontchartrain from nothing but logs to protect the goods traded during the French fur trade.
“One of the reasons why the plaza is built at the riverfront versus other places, is because it was an attempt to put it at where, the city of Detroit started,” said the city of Detroit’s historian, Jamon Jordan.
According to Jordan, the first talks of turning the location where Hart Plaza stands as a waterfront space began in the 1800s, but the city was not sustainable yet. The development didn’t get any movement until 1920 when the auto industry took off.
“That was a booming period for the city,” said Jordan. “And that’s when they planned to build really a whole downtown riverfront civic center.”
Jordan says the original plans to have the community project completed were halted by The Great Depression in the 1930’s and then The World War II in the 1940s. And so, the development for the plaza didn’t pick back up again until the 1950s, but not before the Veteran’s Hall was built, Cobo Hall (Huntington Place) then the city hall building, known as the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
Hart Plaza, which was named after Detroiter and Michigan’s former U.S. Sen. Philip Hart for his support in the civil rights movement, didn’t officially open to the public until 1975.
“And the Dodge fountain didn’t go up until after the plaza was built,” Jordan said.
The latest renovation to Hart Plaza is the $9 million renovation for the Dodge and Son Memorial fountain, which was first designed by architect, Isamu Noguchi, alongside Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls, for the final design.
The historic plaza also has seen other additions in recent years. Last year, the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was added for his role in leading the Detroit Walk to Freedom on June 23, 1963.
During that march, Dr. King first delivered a portion of his “I Have a Dream” speech in Detroit. He performed it two months before delivering the entire version in Washington D.C., marking Detroit’s demonstration as the largest moment in civil rights history.
The plaza also saw three more additions in 2001 during Detroit’s 300th birthday: The Antoine de la mothe Cadillac Statue, which honors the history of the French arrival to Detroit, The Transcending Monument (which ended up opening in 2003) that honors the labor movements history here in the city; and at the foot of the plaza facing the river honoring Detroit’s role in the underground railroad is The Gateway to Freedom International Underground Railroad. On the other side of the river, in Canada, rests a sister statue called The Tower of Freedom.
“That river (Detroit River) is highly important for that reason,” Jordan says. “It again highlights the history of Detroit’s role in the Underground Railroad.”
The heart of the Hart
Over the years, Hart Plaza has been known to Detroiters for its many family-friendly recreational activities.
In the 1980s through the 1990s Jordan says the plaza was the host for ethnic festivals such as the Caribbean Festival, the Arab Festival, the Greek Festival, the Italian Festival, the Mexican Festival, the Downtown Hoedown — a country music festival — the Polish festival and “of course, the largest one, the African World Festival.”
In the 2000s, the plaza’s ice-skating rink was another big part of the attractions.
Other festivities like the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Ribs and Soul Festival, the Movement Electronic Music Festival and many different Hip-Hop and R&B concerts have also been held at Hart Plaza over the years.
“Some of those festivals may have left and come back,” Jordan says. “But we have a couple of festivals — like the Detroit Jazz Festival — that have never left.”
But the focal point of the plaza known as the big fountain, has always been famous for its optic purposes, when folk visit the plaza for any reason.
“Seeing the Dodge Fountain fully restored fills me with anticipation and joy,” said Phillip Talbert, president of Total Access Events. “It’s going to be a magnificent transformation that will breathe new life into this iconic space, and I can’t wait to witness the beauty and vibrancy it will bring to our city.”
Visitors should expect to see fencing around the fountain space until renovations are complete.