The Pioneer Fountain
The commission of a fountain to honor Denver pioneers was the catalyst to begin planning of Civic Center. The statue’s design was originally offered to Augustus Saint-Gaudens who designed statues for Central Park and Grant Park in Chicago. Saint-Gaudens declined the task because of his age, he passed away shortly there after in 1907. An apprentice of his was asked to execute the design.
In this era, the passion was for the Beaux-Arts style. Promoted in Paris emphasizing classical lines and forms it was the architecture of choice at the beginning of the 21th Century. Limited in number, the graduates of Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the great French school, were in great demand. After designing the centerpiece of the Chicago Exposition of 1893 Frederick MacMonnies, Saint-Gaudens’ apprentice, was asked to design a statue that honored those who rode the Smokey Hill Trail and settled Colorado.
At this time, Frederick MacMonnies was a famous sculpture. Denver was lucky to have him accept the commission. His arrival in Denver was the needed push to get plans for Civic Center moving. One anchor of the visualized Civic Center was the State Capitol Building. Most who had a plan saw the land in front of the Capital as the park that was to be Civic Center. Washington D.C. had the National Mall and Denver, although smaller, was seen as similar.
The problem was the Arapahoe County Court House. Located on Court Place it would have made Civic Center park turn to the right from the Capitol. There would not be a straight route between Capital on Court House. Another obstacle was the recently completed Library Building. It was not symmetrical on the grounds. Would a matching building need to be constructed to the south of the library? The fountain MacMonnies was designing was envisioned to be located in the park west of the Capital Building.
On his Denver visit Frederick MacMonnies offered a design that faced west. He saw the intersection of 15th Street as a problem. That would have made a three way intersection between Colfax, 15th Street and Broadway. His idea was to bump out Colfax Avenue routing it around in a circular drive. His statue would have its own triangle plot. The statue would be located at Cheyenne Place and Colfax.
The 35 foot statue encompasses four main sculptures, the Hunter, the Prospector, the Pioneer Mother and is topped by Kit Carson on horseback. MacMonnies original idea was to have a Native American Chief atop of the fountain. Instead, after citizen protests, Kit Carson, husband to two Native American wives and one Mexican wife was cast as the center piece. His legacy was not of a peacemaker, being involved in numerous frontier encounters. Now, a small fence keeps the steps of the fountain clear. A brass plaque lists the names of the numerous donors to the fountain. Those we will explore in the future.
Kit Carson gets placed atop the Pioneer Fountain., above.
Below, Dedication Day, 1911., both photos from Collier’s Magazine.
Top to bottom: Kit Carson, Hunter, Pioneer Mother, Pioneer Fountain, List of Subscribers to the Pioneer Monument fund.
Sources: Phil Goodstein’s, Denver Civic Center, Charles A Johnson’s book-Denver’s Mayor Speer. National Land Mark Nomination Application, 5DV.161/5DV.11336. Wiki for information about Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Kit Carson.
Additions, comments and corrections are welcomed. Thanks, JOE S