The Berger Fountain
One day when I returned from a peaceful stroll with my dog, I noticed my phone answering machine (this was before iPhones) was sputtering with a message from the irascible Martin Freidman – the Director of the Walker Art Center. “Mickey (his wife Mildred Freidman) and I need your help – Right now! How soon can you be at our office? “I’ll be there ASAP.”
Apparently my background in the business world and success with Ken Dayton impressed Martin (also that my mother Eleanor, had been on the Board of Directors at the Walker – and my Father Leo had been an elected member of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and worked closely with Theodore Wirth in establishing the Grand Rounds.
When I arrived, Mickey allowed me to sit down while Martin erupted “Ben Berger (a park board commissioner and local theater magnate) has given the City of Minneapolis a copy of the beautiful fountain that is located in front of the Opera House in Sydney, Australia.” I said something like “That’s wonderful – so what’s the problem?” “It’s a copy, not the original and should not dominate the four and a half acre park board land in front of the front door of the Walker and Guthrie Theater. Even though the Park Board has already given its approval, we deserve better – and certainly a much more appropriate use of the land (think Sculpture Garden).” We have the support of the Hennepin Lowry Hill Council and one of it’s leaders Roger Hale, and the Board of the Walker Art Center and its leader Mrs. Kenneth Judy Dayton – and the 7th ward alderman John Bergford (a Republican – when the Republicans controlled the City Council). However the Park Board has voted and made a commitment to its board member Ben Berger. The odds are against us. “What do we do?”
If nothing, I’ve learned that vocal opposition to a project is rarely successful; an alternative, or two, is much more likely to succeed. We first met with Ben Berger and pleaded, and cajoled – Finally Ben said “I’m 77 years old, I’ll accept another location as long as the fountain is operational while I’m still alive.” – Number one hurdle overcome! Next – find a relocation site.
A 12th and Nicollet site was suggested and argued. Finally a site in Loring Park, where the mythical yet to be financed and yet to be built, Loring Greenway meets Loring Park was agreed upon by all – unanimously. Success! Now the “Berger Fountain” is almost 50 years old. The pump and the electrical system work, sporadically. Some of the aluminum spouts emit a few drops occasionally, some shoot water almost across Willow Street. There were no repair funds requested of Berger along with the gift – so the fountain only works part time, in the summer. And then comes winter! The aluminum rods are dismantled – to avoid theft and for its entire life the fountain has been completely covered in the winter with an “ugly” box without any decoration.
However, the Berger Fountain thrives, as does the Sculpture Garden.