Wednesday, May 09, 2007

1908 Convention fountain to live again

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

Denver is going to reconstruct a fountain originally built for the 1908 Democratic National Convention:

Just before the 1908 Democratic National Convention, Denver Mayor Robert Speer pushed to finish a fountain in City Park that fascinated onlookers in much the same way as the current Bellagio water show on the Las Vegas strip.

For a generation now, Speer's Prismatic Electric Fountain has been known as little more than a concrete thing in the middle of Ferril Lake. But city officials said people used to gather on the banks to take in 90-foot spires of water lit up by an array of colored lights.

A century later - and decades since it was last in use - Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is working to get the fountain up and running before the Democrats come calling again.

Some fountain facts:
  • Cost to build Ferril Lake fountain at City Park in 1908: $19,500
  • Approximate cost for the new fountain that will mirror fountain's 1908 capabilities: $2.4 million
See here for more on the fountain's history and future.


greg said...

According to the federal reserve bank's calculator at

If in 1913 (the earliest year they have data)
I bought goods or services for $19,500 ,
then in 2007
the same goods or services would cost $404,772.73

You'd think that if anything construction techniques would make it easier to do today than back then (e.g. modern pumps and should be slightly better than those a century ago). Certailn 19,000 to 2.7Million looks like a big difference and it is - but it's not a valid comparison. 500,000 to 2.7Million is still a whopping difference (and deserves some explanation) but at least they are on the same scale.

Dave Burrell said...

Such financial calculations aren't just imprecise. They're misleading.

Visit for a more rounded view of how value has changed over the years. That calculator indicates that such a project would have cost somewhere between $41,000 and $714,000... quite a wide range.

Still, the comparison's not apt. You could be a very nice home in 1920 for just $3000. (I know, because I'm a full-time home historian.) The cost of that using the consumer price index would be just $29,000. Try to build a home for that today.

For a sense of perspective, I'd suggest touring the homes in the heart of Country Club. Those structures were built largely in the period 1900-20 for prices ranging from $12,000 (the minimum allowable cost, according to neighborhood covenants) to about $30,000.

Now tell me if you can get one of those nicer homes for less than a 1-3 million. THAT'S inflation!

The Fountain Guy said...

As the person behind the total reconstruction of the Electric Fountain I would like to make some comments about the cost of the project.

1) It is not possible to build a new fountain using the same construction techniques as in 1908. We have building, plumbing and electrical codes to follow, all of which add to the expense of the project.

2) We are constructing the major parts of the new fountain to have a lifetime of between 75 and 100 years. Newspaper accounts of the original fountain show that within 10 years of its construction pipes and electrical devices were failing and had to be replaced.

3) All equipment that is expected to be replaced within the lifetime of the fountain vault has been selected for durability, reliability and longevity; not the cheapest products on the market.

4) Construction costs have escalated well beyond the inflation rate, especially for concrete and metals. For example, the copper power lines running out to the fountain from shore have escalated in cost over 350% in just the past 3 years.

5) The City of Denver requires that all contractors on a City project pay "prevailing" or Davis-Bacon scale wages to workers. This escalates the labor cost on a City project significantly.

6) If we rebuilt the fountain to perform exactly as it did in 1908, contemporary audiences would find it terminally boring. We are duplicating the effects of the original fountain but are going much farther than that to meet the expectations of folks who have grown up seeing fountains at Disney, Las Vegas and other parks.