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Fountain of Youth : The Mulholland Memorial--the 'Kool-Aid' Fountain--Remains as Young as Its Many Admirers

May 11, 1986|MICHAEL CALEB LESTER | Michael Caleb Lester, now a Northern California writer, grew up in Los Angeles. His mother lives next door to the Kool-Aid fountain.

In the summer of '84, a television audience of 2 billion people sat down to watch the Olympic Games-- and Los Angeles. Instead of the predictable red, white and blue, the city appeared draped in magenta, vermilion, yellow and aqua. The Games also took place amid ephemeral struc- tures made of cardboard, fabric and fancy. Balloons, murals and wafting pennants lined the boulevards. It was a pivotal 16 days for the city; the world discovered that Los Angeles had replaced its out- moded reputation for ennui and sprawl with culture, cuisine and a sense of humor. And what it lacked in grace, it clearly made up for in style. In the following pages, we offer some of the high points--and the high-profile practitioners--of that style, including the likes of architect Jon Jerde and color consultant Deborah Sussman, who together gave the city its look for the Olympics and still shape its skyline, and Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, taste-making chefs with the courage to improvise. We've also united rising stars in entertainment with their counterparts in fashion for a sneak preview of L.A. designers' fall collections. Their contributions propel Los Angeles forward, making it, in Jerde's words, "the place where things are going to happen . . . the city of the future."

When I was in high school, in the '60s, we called it the "Kool-Aid Fountain" because it came in such bright colors. Kids would bring blankets, sit under the trees near it, and neck.

The fountain still shows its colors each night, from dusk till 10:30 p.m. They change every 10 seconds, in this order: white, blue, purple, red, orange, gold, yellow, then back to white. The cascade of ripples around the base stays green, always bright green.

Its real name is the William Mulholland Memorial. In the late 1870s, Mulholland, the engineer who was to build the Los Angeles Aqueduct and bring Owens Valley water to Los Angeles, was digging ditches for a local water company, living in a shack on the site. When he died, a respected public figure, they erected a monument to him there: the fountain.

The fountain has changed little since Aug. 1, 1940, when his granddaughter, Patricia Mulholland, ceremoniously pushed a button to set off the eternal squirting.

It's still big (90 feet across, 60,000 gallons in circulation), bright and beautiful. Fashion models still pose before the fountain for magazine spreads. Television and movie companies still shoot scenes at it, around it, even in it.

Weekends when the weather is clear, newlyweds, decked out in their matrimonial best, pose before the fountain. Entire wedding parties wait patiently on the sidewalk, or on what's left of the lawn, for their photo opportunities. They get married somewhere else--at a friend's house or in a chapel--but they come to the Kool-Aid fountain for the pictures to send home.

The fountain somehow stays young, but its immediate surroundings grow sad and tired.

Juan Murrieta, legendary bandit, used to gallop across the site on his way through Rancho Los Feliz. Now, there's a bridle path that starts and stops at white-railed barricades, a path to nowhere.

There used to be a towering redwood tree, planted in 1935 by a number of community groups in memory of Will Rogers. Now, where the tree once stood, there's only a commemorative plaque to it, a first stop for the early-morning parade of dog walkers.

There used to be luscious lawns and thousands of pansies surrounding the fountain; folks from afar would come to picnic, even on weekdays. In 1978, most of the tall trees and little lawns were removed. Senior parks maintenance supervisor Sam Mibu explains: "In the late '60s, hippies started camping here. The flower children were fine; they were aware. But then came the transients. There was a lot of extracurricular activity, if you know what I mean." Mibu means bongo drums, drugs, bottles bashed against nearby buildings, shootings, stabbings, rape.

So the big trees came down and the street people moved back to the street, where some now live in the cars and tacky trailers that line Riverside Drive.

The park lost its spark, but not the fountain, still spurting after all these years. It's the water with its beauty, power, romance, action. Just ask the kids, the Latino kids who shun the public swimming pool across the street, the kids who insist on splashing in the fountain on warm summer days. The stenciled signs --SE PROHIBE NADAR --prohibit nobody. Water is for getting wet. And the fountain is so much fun.

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