EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Longwood Gardens will begin work next month on a $90 million restoration of the 5-acre Main Fountain Garden that has thrilled guests for nearly 60 years.
“It is a part of our long-term commitment to delivering a world-class experience for all our guests,” said Paul Redman, Longwood Gardens’ executive director. “We have been planning for the revitalization of these iconic fountains for many years now. We are preserving Mr. (Pierre) du Pont’s legacy and adding to it through beautiful new plantings, the creation of new spaces in which to relax and reflect, and improved accessibility so guests can walk freely among the fountains.”
The fountain is one of the biggest draws for the more than 1 million visitors that go through the gates Longwood Gardens every year. The renovation begins in mid-October and should be completed in spring 2017. All parts of the new Fountain Garden will be handicap accessible.
The fountains’ original plumbing is in bad shape and many of its jets clogged. It’s so old, parts can no longer be ordered but must be custom made. Still, the fountain circulates 10,000 gallons of water per minute and features 380 individual fountains.
Among the planned renovations: a total replacement of the fountains’ electric plumbing infrastructure with 21st-century systems, allowing the fountains to run more efficiently and for a longer period of time. There will be new seating areas with limited food service. The south wall, which has been closed to the public for the last 20 years, containing 20 wall-mounted fountains, will reopen.
Also, there will be a new water choreography which will include jets that propel water 175 feet into the air — 45 feet higher than the current system. This will also allow for more precise control of the water movement to create unique undulating, flexing and sinning effects.
Richard Southwick, principal architect for Beyer Blinder Bell Architects, said the completed fountain will be nothing short of spectacular.
“It will be a brilliant fountain design,” he said. “There will be 3,000 LED lights with a million lighting combinations, even flame features. It will be an incredible show.”
The traditional legacy light show visitors have seen for decades will also be available with a push of a button, Southwick said, and there will be a state-of-the-art underground sound system.
The lawn where the main fountain is located will be re-graded and beautified.
“The lawn will be a new feature for people,” Redman said. “Right now it’s beautiful, but not inviting.”
West 8, a world-renowned landscape architecture firm, will design the garden’s public spaces to harmonize with the original design and enhance the Main Fountain Garden’s horticultural elements, as well as creating new gardens that will be new amenities for Longwood’s guests.
The fountain will shut down Oct. 15 and excavation work will take about nine months, Southwick said. Visitors will be able to view much of the renovation during that time, but the work area will not be accessible.
Du Pont himself designed the 5-acre Fountain Garden, incorporating both French and Italian elements. The goal was to rival the fountains he had seen in Europe and at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The Main Fountains were first turned on in 1931, but the 5-acre garden was not completed until several years later. The Florentine firm Olivotti provided tons of limestone, carved into decorative flowers, fruit and water creatures to impart an Old World feeling.
The original control board has more than 200 toggle switches and 11 small levers to activate the pumping and dimming equipment located in the pump house at the opposite end of the Garden. The system was replaced in 1965 with a modern theater lighting board, and in 1984, the system was computerized and synchronized to music,
The 1,077-acre Longwood Gardens hosts 800 horticultural and performing arts events each year, from flower shows, gardening demonstrations, courses and children’s programs to concerts, organ and carillon recitals, musical theatre, fountain shows and fireworks displays. It also hosts an extensive Christmas light display during the holiday season.
Longwood Gardens’ conservatory is one of the world’s greatest greenhouse structures. The conservatory alone is home to more than 5,500 types of plants.
General admission is $18, $15 for seniors 62 and over, $8 for students 5 to 18. Group rates are available. For more information, visit www.longwoodgardens.org.