Thursday, November 3, 2022

Restoring the Elk Statue and Fountain


Orange pieces would be newly created

Potential return of the historic David Thompson elk statue and fountain has reached a significant new step with a proposal from the Portland Parks Foundation to repair the fountain and restore the historic landmark to its original location on S.W. Main Street.

The non-profit foundation’s “preferred alternative” also would restrict motor vehicles to the southern lane only on Main and allow pedestrians closer opportunities to observe the fountain.

 Alas, restoring the fountain and the street changes both carry price tags.  Restoring the fountain with a recirculating water pump is expected to cost about $900,000 and the street work another $640,000. 

 Randy Gragg, executive director of the parks foundation, hopes that a public and private fund-raising effort can reach the goal. He said the city has received about $750,000 from an insurance claim about the fountain damage, which occurred during public protests in 2020.

 Gragg said evidence suggests that the popular elk and fountain were never targets of the protests but suffered as “collateral damage.”

 The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission will be presented evidence about the fountain restoration at a public hearing on Nov. 7. There is every reason to believe the commission will be supportive of the work, but there could be quibbles about the amount of granite that has to be replaced.


Cars and buses would use south lane; north lane for bikes and pedestrians

Fortunately, “new” granite can be obtained from the same quarry in Vermont as was used originally when the fountain was built in 1900.

 The fountain was donated to Portland by David P. Thompson, a former Portland mayor, school board president and successful businessman and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.  “He had a pretty good track record for a man of his era,” Gragg said. “There are no real problems with him.” Four statues of U.S. presidents at various locations in Portland have been removed without legal approval given their comments or behaviors involving racism.

 A historical review as part of the parks foundation study showed that the elk was often the scene of public debates over the years over many issues. Gragg said it could again become a popular gathering spot as it sits between Lownsdale and Chapman Squares.

 Gragg said restoration of the statue and fountain could be a “unifying civic gesture” capable of achieving widespread interest and support.

 The fountain is composed of 50 pieces of granite, 18 of which need to be recreated, according to the foundation’s plan.  Many of the “new” pieces are among the largest.  For an accurate restoration, as many of the historic pieces should be used as possible.

 Ultimately, the Portland City Council will decide on replacing the fountain and to what extent street changes will occur. The council in May resolved unanimously to restore the elk and fountain, but budgetary consequences were not known at that time.

It took an outpouring emails to the city council (many inspired a a blog post published here) to achieve the council's attention. It was proof that the city's important historic fabric is indeed important to our memories and to our unique sense of place, and thus worthy of saving. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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