Maybe it's Time to Replace Downtown Fountain

Novato's watery cornerstone at Redwood & Grant, a fountain named for Mabel Hartman, has been enjoyed for 31 years.

More than 30 years ago, a local retiree Mabel Hartman set aside $5,000 in her will with directions for the Novato Garden Club to create a fountain in one of the Redwood Boulevard medians. 

Hartman was a charter member of the club in 1935 and resident of a 45-acre Happy Day Farm at 2495 Novato Boulevard, near modern-day and . The Hartmans owned a jewelry store in San Francisco and the farm was their weekend getaway. Once they retired, the ardent gardeners made Novato home.

We have driven past this fountain at Redwood Boulevard and Grant Avenue for many years, visitors have asked me about this fountain. Is it a totem pole? What is the history?

After driving by the other day, I decided to take a closer look. I could not get too close to the base because the foundation is cracking and water appears to have saturated the surrounding grounds.

As the has diligently worked to improve the appearance of the downtown over the years, one can only wonder why this fountain has not been modernized.

I know that sometimes citizens donate supplies, labor and plans to create beautiful parks, fountains and murals, but then the city is left with the maintenance chores once after the volunteers have finished the project. At one time, city coffers were full and there might have been money for an upgrade. Now, with all the millions of dollars in reductions, there are few options for repair.

After 30 years of operation, the fountain's redwood is rotting, the PVC pipes are broken and foundation is crumbling. What does this say about the state of our city? 

Can we restore this fountain to its former brilliance or create a new one to mirror the improvements downtown? What do you think should be done?

The Novato Garden Club would like to know what the ciitizen's think prior to their next meeting. The club's mission, for the past 75 years, has been to beautify the city of Novato. How do you feel about the fountain?

Thank you to the Novato History Museum's curator Samantha Kimpel and volunteer Cindy Motsinger for their assistance leafing through the scrapbooks and files for this story.

early whirly September 08, 2011 at 04:14 PM
I think public art should be at the expense of any developer getting a building permit in Novato, and should be something they have to do. Numerous buildings and subdivisions have been built in Novato in the last ten years and the only thing they seem to have to do is put in the turning lane. Someone's going to profit from the new building at Redwood and Grant. Maybe they should chip in to either build something more impressive (in the name of Mabel Hartman) or restore it to a more permanent condition.
Jan Morris September 08, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Silvia--it wasn't replaced back then because (and there were funds to do so) the City didn't want to offend Rotary. We have a tendency to avoid making good decisions based on past.
Sue McQuinn September 08, 2011 at 04:39 PM
What defines Novato...let's keep this positive...we want to encourage residents and visitors to explore downtown. We do have an amazing community. Are we the Gateway to the Wine Country? Sounds great Alex, I actually thought public art/new construction was already mandated. It is important to include the Novato Garden Club and Rotary in the decisions.
Jan Morris September 08, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Alex, yes the construction at 999 Grant Ave. will either include public art or pay into the kitty. It would make sense, as it is adjacent to this intersection. FYI…including my original comment. This fountain was discussed at length about 12 yrs. ago with the Art Commission, as it no longer functioned and admittedly not very attractive. It was a ‘kit’ put together by Rotary. When it did function, kids would add soap powder & the darn thing would spout out bubbles. This location screams for something prominent, maybe depicting Novato’s history, maybe a large piece of real ‘art’. Percent for Public Art is a policy set in place (from new construction) that could fund something we could all be proud of…unless of course it has been tapped into. The wood is rotten & refurbishing means ‘replacing’. I vote for something we could all be proud of!
Craig Belfor September 08, 2011 at 05:21 PM
I'm with Alex. Rohnert Park gets baseball fields, kiddie parks, and other civic improvements as part of their approval process, and any housing developers must first allocate part of the project for affordable housing, below market rate. We could do the same thing here.
Edwin Drake September 08, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Why is it "important" to include the Garden Club and Rotary on new fountain decisions? What gives them the right to jump to the head of the line on public input. THIS is exactly what's wrong with Novato, this network of good ol'boys who get to chime as they see fit and whose opinion is taken as representing the public at large. You want input? Go to public meetings. BUT you DO NOT deserve special consideration. You made you first among equals? Yes, I'm angry, because this attitude is what's wrecking this town. Final question: When's the last time either the Garden Club or Rotary did anything to help maintain the fountain or paid the electric bill that keeps the pumps running?
Karen Dionne September 08, 2011 at 05:53 PM
I would consider it important to include the Garden Club and Rotary Club if they had been involved with the upkeep of the fountain, but this doesn't appear to be the case. Having something aesthetically pleasing to view and be proud of is more important.
Bob September 08, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Christine, I'm with you. I have lived in Novato my whole life and now I am retired. I have watched much of what I remember about Novato disappear. Maybe it is that newer residents to Novato don't have any attachment to these landmarks. I say restore it. If the City has extra money, it is not like there is no another location in our City that could use beautification. This fountain is certainly more pleasing then Wyndover.
Bob Ratto September 08, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Jan Did you state that it has not worked for 12 YEARS?...Realistically, getting this to work should not take any longer than a day...we are talking about some light digging, some PVC pipe...maybe a pump...maybe some wood replacement...is anyone working at Public Works?...
Thomas September 08, 2011 at 06:58 PM
It is not good the city has allowed the condition of the fountain to reach this non-functioning dilapidated state it currently is in. Perhaps Novato cannot maintain a fountain like that over the long term, and would be better off with something new and different. However I also agree, this should be at expense of public art funds that should have been grown during the better economic times we were in. Ironically these kind of situations like this one here can actually be like a mirror, reflecting the general situation of city management.
Bob Ratto September 08, 2011 at 07:09 PM
When's the last time either the Garden Club or Rotary did anything to help maintain the fountain or paid the electric bill that keeps the pumps running?-um, think it was about 13 years ago, when it last worked...
Bob Ratto September 08, 2011 at 07:13 PM
When your priorities include spending $450k+ on out of state sign companies (from Pennsylvania) to develop new downtown signage (to help residents and visitors find downtown), but you can't maintain a relatively simple fountain, well that is a bit telling as well. Make new signage to go downtown to see our fountain that has been broken for 12 years.
Robert J. Cleek September 08, 2011 at 07:16 PM
This article and its accompanying rants suffer from a decided lack of factual accuracy. I am a member of the Rotary Club of Novato and, although not authorized to speak officially for my club on this issue, I can point folks in the right direction. I'm not going to weigh in on the artistic merits of the fountain. I presume its design was considered and approved at the time of its construction. Tastes differ, certainly. Neither can I comment on the particulars of Ms. Hartman's $5,000 bequest. I don't know whether or not all or any portion of it was set aside for the costs of operation of the fountain and so forth. What I do know, however, is that the fountain was built with volunteer labor (and likely in part with materials and funds) donated by the Rotary Club of Novato as one of their many community service projects. (E.g., the recent installation of the old time street clock on lower Grant Ave.) When the need was recognized, long before publication of this article, the Community Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Novato identified the repair or replacement of the fountain (at no cost to the taxpayers) as one of its community service projects planned for this year. I would expect that project will be completed in due course. Anyone who wishes should contact the Rotary Club of Novato for the particulars.
Robert J. Cleek September 08, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Put your money where your mouth is, Ed. I believe Novato Garden Club volunteers have always maintained ALL the plantings on those medians, as the tasteful signs indicate. As for the Rotary Club of Novato, see my post below. When YOU donate tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor to the town for the benefit of its citizens, I'm sure you'll find your position "among equals" will merit more serious consideration.
Edwin Drake September 08, 2011 at 07:31 PM
Whatever happened to doing something without expectation of recognition? Are we supposed to be impressed that it's on your list? If everything was volunteered, whatever happened to the $5000? I like the fountain. It's VERY style specific, and reeks of late 70s. But, while here, the street clock, I will note, of a visual style completely out of character for the early 20th facades of Grant Ave. This hodge-podge of looks and styles works against creating a likable downtown. the clock you picked would be more at home among late 19th C buildings, a la Disneyland Main Street. Poo-poo this comment, but this stuff matters. So, thanks for the clock, no thanks for its look. Everyone wants a vibrant downtown, but no one is willing to take a hard look at what that means, which nearby "downtowns" work and why they work, and what NOvato needs to do to get things going.
Bob September 08, 2011 at 07:39 PM
Robert, I thank your Rotary Clubs for all the public service projects you folks do. The Novaro one, two and three complexes comes to mind as well as donating Semi-automatic defibrillators and many other contributations. Over the years I have seen the Garden Club planting and maintaining their "color spots" around town. These are 2 examples of organizations that give to Novato, not take!
Robert J. Cleek September 08, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Myself, I find doing good works anonymously to be the more noble course, but, pragmatically speaking, a lot more good work gets done when its recognized and appreciated. I didn't pick out the clock. I have no idea who did, but I assume the appropriate city agency approved it. I agree with your assessment. It does have a sort of "Disneyland Main Street" flavor, which I happen to enjoy. The way I see it, the clock's "Mickey Mouse" flavor is entirely consistent with the current city government located just around around the corner. Like I said, tastes certainly differ.
early whirly September 08, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Personally, I'd like to see this forum exchange ideas not barbs. The Rotary Club does many good things and should not be bashed. The problem with today's California is too many special interests. A Disney Clock is not what this discussion began as. Can't we all just get along?
Susan Clark September 08, 2011 at 08:42 PM
The downtown clock is a beautiful fit which adds character and charm to our beautiful Novato. Thank you Rotary Club!
Susan Clark September 08, 2011 at 09:07 PM
c. richards you make a great point.
Susan Clark September 08, 2011 at 09:17 PM
We could do the same but first we must vote in 3 new city council members this November
Margaret Kapranos September 08, 2011 at 09:43 PM
I can remember listening to heated opposition about the design of the fountain when the designer presented his design to the City Council. It was not from a kit. It would be interesting to pull that information from the minutes if they still exist (or an old Novato Advance article I'm sure would have that information). I seem to recall the designer was well known. However, 30 years ago, who knows how accurate my memory. Overall, the fountain is quite basic and should be able to last far more than it has should the design account for long term durability. It should be reflective of its populace, history (Miwok Indians? farming?) and its natural resources. In the era of conservation, can we not design something that takes into account water and electrical conservation so it sustains itself? Perhaps, it doesn't have to include a water feature, but simply be a monument more reflective of today's time yet reflective on the past.
Robert J. Cleek September 08, 2011 at 10:25 PM
Novato COULD have been "The Gateway to the Wine Country," but I think Petaluma took that title by default while Novato was preoccupied with the threat of lawsuits over the validity of environmental impact reports of possible tourist traffic impacts. Sigh...
Robert J. Cleek September 08, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Reflective of today and the past? How about a nice bronze sculpture of a mob of Novatans carrying pitchforks and torches, marching towards our iconic City Hall? LOL
Craig Belfor September 08, 2011 at 10:47 PM
No bronze please. The Wyndover wino begging across the street would steal it
Craig Belfor September 08, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Am I the only one who read the article today in the IJ that a group from Novato got $625,000 to stop teen drinking? For this kind of money, we could buy all the booze in town before the kids get to it, dump it in the fountain, and when the Wyndover wino tells his dirtbag buddies via his Iphone, they'll stage a reenactment of the first scene of "Tale of Two Cities". With Wyndover being 98% vacant, just change the locks, move in the squeaks that missed out on Nova Row, save the money from the Warner Creek senior complex being built, fix the theater instead, and give the kids a place to go. Do I have to think of everything? Really-$625,000? We need their lobbyist. He's good. Most of that money will go to administration, so Hilltop will be where they meet.
Craig Belfor September 08, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Oh yea- about the fountain. Turn it into a porta potty. Might as well keep it doing the same job it's been doing all these years.
Tracey Ruiz September 09, 2011 at 05:11 AM
What about using the same design but different materials? I think a mix of painted metal (iron & steel) and corrugated metal would take us back to Novato's farming days. I'd love to see a design contest open to Novato residents and Marin artists.
joyceapplen September 12, 2011 at 11:40 PM
I am in favor of replacing it with something better and more appropriate of for today. Something that will be more durable.
Novato Chess Club December 09, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Support Rotary and Rotarian's in Novato....


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