The remarkable restoration of South Bend’s historic Studebaker Electric Fountain will be honored on July 15 with an award from Indiana Automotive—an affinity group of Indiana Landmarks—during the group’s annual automotive heritage tour.
The Indiana Automotive Heritage Award recognizes the Friends of Studebaker Fountain’s extraordinary efforts to rescue and revive a landmark tied to the city’s auto manufacturing industry.
“With its fascinating back story and inspiring restoration, the Studebaker Fountain is a great example of historic preservation,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks. “It’s gratifying to see a piece of the city’s automotive heritage resume a place of honor as a celebrated community landmark.”
Inspired by an elaborate cast-iron fountain he’d seen at the U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, John Studebaker, president of South Bend’s Studebaker Wagon Works, commissioned a similar fountain as a gift to the city. Installed in Howard Park in 1906, the electrically illuminated fountain stood 28 feet high and 34 feet in diameter, featuring female figures, cherubs, dolphins, and turtles.
After the fountain fell into disrepair, the City of South Bend’s Parks Department dismantled it in 1941. Though many people believed the entire structure had been melted for scrap, the top one-third of the fountain showed up in Mishawaka in a family’s backyard. In 2009 the family’s estate donated the fountain to The History Museum in South Bend.
The rescued pieces—including the large bowls and figurines, water-spitting turtles, and whimsical cherubs—were deteriorated from years of outside exposure and overpainting. The lower two-thirds of the fountain remained missing.
In 2015, a coalition of community leaders, historians, and preservation advocates organized as the Friends of Studebaker Fountain to explore the possibility of repairing and reinstalling the fountain in a city park. The group raised nearly $700,000 for the project in less than eight months.
The City of South Bend incorporated the fountain into planning for restoration of the George Kessler-designed Leeper Park, providing underground infrastructure, installation equipment and personnel for the project, and agreeing to maintain the fountain in the future.
Robinson Iron of Alabama recast the missing two-thirds of the fountain, using original molds acquired from J.L. Mott Ironworks of New York. McKay Lodge Art Conservation Laboratory Inc. of Ohio restored the original pieces and reassembled the original and reproduction segments. Color-changing LED lights have replaced the original incandescent fixtures, tying the fountain with other riverside lighting installations.
In 2019, the refurbished fountain was rededicated at Leeper Park, where it is a popular backdrop for weddings and events and serves as a tranquil retreat for families visiting loved ones at the nearby Memorial Hospital/Riley Children’s Hospital.
Mindi Woolman, Indiana Landmarks, 317-639-4534, 317-417-1204 (cell), email@example.com
Indiana Landmarks revitalizes communities, reconnects us to our heritage, and saves meaningful places. With nine offices located throughout the state, Indiana Landmarks helps people rescue endangered landmarks and restore historic neighborhoods and downtowns. People who join Indiana Landmarks receive its bimonthly magazine, Indiana Preservation. For more information on the not-for-profit organization, call 317-639-4534, 800-450-4534, or visit www.indianalandmarks.org.
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