“For the masses that do the city’s work also keep the city’s heart.” -Nelson Algren

A number of years ago, we won a little competition to design a winter-time cover for a large basin-type fountain in a small park in Chicago.  The fountain is named after Nelson Algren, the novelist and occasional screenwriter who wrote vivid, sentimental-free stories of the bartenders, prostitutes and gamblers of  Chicago.  When I lived in Chicago, I lived around the corner from one of his haunts and this fountain is just down the street from my first real experiences in the city.

The project was to be paid for with a combination of funds and like so many of these endeavors it stalled, stumbled and finally died.  Or so I thought.  It looks like interest has revived and we may be finally giving birth to this little project.

Here are some of the texts and images we produced for the original competition entry:

The Nelson Algren fountain sits in a long overlooked triangle at the center of a rapidly changing neighborhood in Chicago. It is not the Gold Coast or Lincoln Park, it is not Bronzeville or Uptown. It is not even at the heart of Wicker Park or Bucktown. It is overlooked because it sits in-between, because the triangle that it sits in is the result of the streets around it, not designed to be a place of its own. The proposed project is for a seasonal cover for the neglected fountain that makes a claim for that place.  It claims this place for the people that work around it and pass through it every day. It is a visual analogue to Algren’s stories, a recording of the lives of the people in the neighborhood around him. Not portraits of the city’s great and powerful, but of the people that do the city’s work. The cover consists of a series of painted steel frames that support lexan panels holding acetate screenprinted portraits of people in the neighborhood. Text from Algren’s work Chicago, City on the Make, rings the base of the panels that extend just beyond the edge of the existing basin surround. Internal backlighting at night creates a beacon, shining through the back of the images and allowing them to keep watch over the triangle. Each year or as required, the images will be replaced. An ad hoc photo booth will be setup and allow anyone to come in and have their portrait taken and added to the panels. Over time the changing face of the neighborhood will be reflected in the panels.