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Splashy Scene

November 17, 1985

We have been taking our tuna sandwiches on the rounds of downtown Los Angeles fountains, learning a lot about serene places for a midday snack in the sunshine, and what water can do--splashing, gurgling, reflecting or simply flowing. The redevelopment of the city center has encouraged innovation as well as reinterpretation of old ideas.

None of this can rival the gardens at the Villa d'Este at Tivoli in Italy, or the bravura of fountains, old and new, in Rome itself, in Madrid and most European cities. But those extravagant concepts inspired many of the Los Angeles fountains, we learned.

The most pretentious downtown fountain, the Fort Moore Memorial on Hill Street north of Temple, is now high and dry, a victim of the energy crisis and Proposition 13 economies. Its concept was more Niagara Falls than Tivoli. In its prime, each of its three pumps was capable of sending 7,500 gallons a minute over the waterfall. Such was the spray that usually only one pump was used--and never more than two.

There remain in service some substantial bodies of water downtown, not the least of which is the 220,000-square-foot pool at the offices of the Department of Water and Power that also cools 8,400 gallons a minute from the air-conditioning system.

The megafountain of the inner city is the Arthur J. Will Memorial in the mall of the county offices, just east of the Music Center. LaRue Lang, who designed the fountain 26 years ago, told us that he had been inspired by what he had seen in Europe, but there is a bit of Old Faithful as well. When all five pumps and 90 nozzles are at peak phase, the fountain sprays 9,300 gallons a minute, making the water look like milk. That torrent drowns out every sound of the city, which is fine for everybody except those listening to the midday concert piped into the mall from KUSC-FM. Music lovers retreat to the benches that are farthest from the fountain. We have found a bench with just the right balance between Bach and fountain. But not everyone shares our approval of the musical selections. Mike Pepetone, the county's man in charge of the sound system, told us that one day the radio receiver that he uses drifted from the classics of KUSC to the hard rock of an adjacent frequency--and he was surprised at how many of the people outside thanked him.

Richard Law, who had a hand in designing two of our favorites, also found inspiration in what he had seen in Europe, but his work is exciting primarily for its innovation. At the Security Pacific National Bank headquarters, three waterfalls plunge 24 feet among willow trees into the sunken garden surrounded by bank, restaurant and cafeteria. That was his way of joining the spacious gardens above with the sunken courtyard below. Nearby, at 400 S. Hope St., Law created what he calls a lineal fountain--a 300-foot-long pool that is not the reflection pond that it seems at first, but a surging spring spilling water smoothly and soothingly its entire length. He was, among other things, responding to the wishes of those concerned about earlier mistakes in the downtown that had set buildings on garage pedestals and neglected the human passerby. "I was trying to reactivate the street, to make it more pedestrian-accessible," Law explained.

The effectiveness of gurgle as opposed to splash is also demonstrated in the plaza of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo, where Isamu Noguchi has complemented his stone sculptures with a low-lying dome of a fountain that surges like the spring of all life, sending water rippling down squares of stone. We sat alongside the fountain, delighted that the subtle sounds of the water were audible over the traffic on San Pedro Street, until an ambulance sounded its siren. The gentleness of the fountain contrasts with the turbulence of the waterfall and streams that course through the Japanese garden on the other side of the plaza. Both go well with tuna on pitta with sprouts, which you can buy at the deli by the fountain in the mall at the City Hall.

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