Motorists commuting on Mound Street last week might have noticed significant progress in the Mable Ringling Memorial Fountain restoration project in Lukewood Park. And, if the honks and waves Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation board member Larry Kelleher has received during his onsite visits are any indication, people like what they see.
Kelleher, along with fellow board members, spearheaded efforts to renovate the historic fountain in 2011, and in August, the organization led an exploratory excavation. Now, nine months later, the project is nearly complete, and the fountain, which has been buried and in disrepair since the early 1950s, will soon stand just as it did when it was built in 1936.
As part of the historical renovation, the fountain’s original statue, now located on St. Armands Circle, was cast and duplicated; a new fountain bowl was recreated from photographs; and the original lion statues that accompanied the fountain were recovered from J.D. Hamil Park and returned to their original location.
“It’s been quite a process,” says Kelleher. “It’s a thrilling experience, and I’ve never been involved with something like this before. It’s been a long process, with everyone trying to fit time into their work schedules, but it’s all happening now, and we’re very excited.”
After successfully testing the water Tuesday, June 11, some minor additional concrete, stone and electrical work is all that remains to complete the project.
Kelleher, who has been filming the process for an educational documentary, estimates the statue will be in working order within the next few weeks, and Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation board members plan to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October, to coincide with the Ringling International Arts Festival and allow out-of-town project donors to be present.
“Seeing the water flow, I let out a huge sigh of relief,” says Kelleher. “It’s been a lot of work, but this is an engaging part of our heritage, and I’m excited for people to see it. I’ve always wondered what the fountain looked like underneath all the dirt. To see it completed will be a dream come true.”