Created in 1911, a narrow, two mile park of lawns and gardens, runs the complete length of Beverly Hills. Beverly Gardens, as the park is named, is interspersed with a rose garden, ornate park benches, a lily pond, a unique cactus garden, tall trees, and on the southwest end (at the busy intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards) is the “Electric Fountain.” The Electric Fountain got its name because of its wonderful changing lights and water, timed to change approximately every 8 minutes.

Conceived in the late 20’s and inaugurated in 1931, built on land donated by the Rodeo Land and Water Company and funded by the Beverly Hills Woman’s Club, the Electric Fountain was designed by the architect Ralph Carlin Flewelling with the frieze and sculpture at the top being designed by sculptor/artist Robert Merrell Gage. Indeed Gage has been called “the American sculptor,” leaving behind a large and excellent body of work depicting the stories of the western struggle and the lives of heroes of the American soul.

The Electric Fountain is said to have stopped traffic for hours when unveiled in 1931. [1] Originally, the fountain’s water jets and color effects were timed to give 60 different combinations every 8 minutes for a total cost of $22,000, $8,000 of which was spent for electrical equipment and wiring. [2]

The fountain pool has a diameter of 51’ 6” with a depth of 28”, with glazed light blue tiles on the inside and two rows of blue and white glazed terracotta tiles on the exterior. Rising out of the center of the pool is a cast concrete cylindrical splash basin with a frieze of relief carvings and 10 cast dog heads.  The splash basin is 15’ 6” wide and 4’ 7” high. The frieze, titled “History of California,” depicts the rich history of California with various scenes from early to more modern times.

Click the picture for a large version

Cast in the center of the splash basin is a full length Tongva/Gabrieleno Indian kneeling in prayer atop a 7' high plinth. Perhaps giving thanks for the fertility and abundance of the land or asking the gods for rain, the statue is said to be modeled after Gradin Newsom, himself being part Cherokee.

The Tongva/Gabrieleno occupied the entire Los Angeles basin and the islands of Santa Catalina, San Nicholas, San Clemente, and Santa Barbara with an estimated population of 5,000 when the first Spanish settlers arrived in 1781. From Topanga Canyon to Laguna Beach, from the San Gabriel mountains to the sea, they lived throughout most of what is now Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Around the fountain is a broad plaza of unglazed terracotta tiles surrounded by 3 semi-circular concrete benches, providing a place for visitors to sit, relax, and enjoy the serene beauty, briefly escaping the hectic city. On a hot summer day it's not unusual to see pedestrians stop briefly to enjoy the cooling mist provided by the spraying work of art.

The terracotta tiles of the plaza add color and depth.  They also reinforce the history lesson provided on the frieze of the fountain. Interspersed among the deep earth-colored tiles are 15 special tiles in the American art deco mode, showing “strong Americans,” reflecting scenes from the “History of California.”

The fountain's intricate hydraulic system stopped working in the mid 1970's prompting a partially successful restoration attempt in the 1980's. Thenthe lighting stopped working around 1990. In 2000 there was a complete authentic restoration of the elaborate 69-year-old landmark utilizing new water jets and light fixtures.

At 6pm on December 13, 2000, the switch was thrown once again on the nation's first electric water fountain, restarting the spectacular water and light show.

1. “Fountain Blues”, New West, April 25, 1977

2. “Request for Determination of Eligibility for Inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places,” prepared by Louis M. Webb and George Casen, p.2. also see Jennifer Ring, “Splash and Spray Around LA; A Tour of Some of the City’s Classier Spouts,” Westways, September 1972

If you use any of these photos for commercial purposes I would hope you'll at least talk to me about it.

The original large-format raw files are available upon request.