Beverly Hills' renovated Electric Fountain makes a splash

In June 1931, a grand fountain was installed in Beverly Hills that, according to news reports, led thousands to stop their cars and gape. Officers were stationed nearby to sort out the ensuing traffic snarls.

Back then the location, at Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards, hardly was as built up and busy as it is today. The Electric Fountain — with its repeating, rainbow-colored water show — was a crowd-creating spectacular.

Time passes. Technology changes. Pipes get clogged. Tiles crack. Algae turns cast stone that once was tan a mucky, grayish green.

In recent months, the fountain has been undergoing an overhaul, its water turned off while its innards were updated and its outer parts got a scrub-down and face-lift.

It went back into service in grand style Tuesday, played in by members of the Beverly Hills High School Marching Band, who wore uniforms of orange, white and black, shakos with white plumes on their heads.

The bas relief at the fountain's base is a lesson in California history: its first inhabitants, the mission padres, the discovery of gold.

Atop a pedestal at its center, a Gabrielino Tongva Indian kneels in prayer — some say for rain. The figure was designed by Robert Merrell Gage, the fountain by architect Ralph Carlin Flewelling.

At the dedication of the refurbished fountain, Julia Bogany, a Gabrielino Tongva Indian from San Bernardino, was on hand to offer a blessing. "Dear Creator, we thank you for this day with this gorgeous sunshine..."

The original piece — which cost $22,000 — was given to Beverly Hills by the mother of silent-screen star Harold Lloyd; its installation paid for by the Women's Club of Beverly Hills, over which for a time she presided.

Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne, who attended last week's dedication, said that although she never met her great-grandmother, she knew her to be a forceful woman — thus her nickname, Bam.

The older woman, she said, always wanted the same things from her son that he gave to his wife. "'If she gets a bracelet, I get a bracelet. If she gets a fur coat, I get a fur coat.' It was tit for tat with everything," Suzanne Lloyd said.

The fountain was probably a form of appeasement from son to mother, she said. It was known in the family as "Bam's fountain."

But the now-63-year-old Suzanne Lloyd, who was raised by her grandparents, used to call it the fairy fountain because she thought there was a fairy at the top.

On the way home from Trader Vic's, her grandparents sometimes would take her past the fountain several times so she could see the colors change "from blue to red to pink and muliticolor."

"It was a kind of like a water Christmas tree," she said.

The restoration cost $1.5 million, with the city matching private contributions raised by the Friends of Beverly Gardens Park, which also is working to restore the rest of the 1.9-mile linear series of gardens and paths that runs along the northern side of Santa Monica Boulevard and separates the business of the famous city from its homes.

At the dedication ceremony, much mention was made of the spruced-up fountain's greater efficiency. Its lights that change color — yellow, red, blue, green — are now LED. Its water, said Mayor John Mirisch, was trucked in from the Cabrillo Reservoir area and recirculates, in keeping with the city's conservation efforts.

Tuesday afternoon was hot, and the fountain's spray provided a cool, misty relief.

Maybe the kneeling figure also did his part to bring rain later in the week.

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimescitybeat

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A version of this article appeared in print on April 10, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "A splashy return for Beverly Hills fountain" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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