Friendship Fountain Grand Reopening

June 20, 2011 64 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Following a $3.1 million restoration, Friendship Fountain reopened Saturday on Jacksonville's Southbank. Among the dignitaries present for the reopening ceremony were Mayor John Peyton and Taylor Hardwick, the architect who designed the original Friendship Fountain Park.

Friendship Fountain History

Friendship Fountain site in 1948.

The fountain and Friendship Park was designed by Taylor Hardwick, the Jacksonville architect who also designed the Haydon Burns Library. 14 acres of land were donated for the project by the Southside Business Men's Club, an organization dedicated to the improvement of the Southside that was established in 1932. Begun in 1963 and completed at a cost of $1.7 million, the parked opened in March 1965. The “world’s largest and tallest” fountain at the time, it became a popular tourist attraction.

The three pumps had a combined 750 horsepower and could push 17,000 gallons per minute; some streams as tall as a 10-story building. The enclosure for the pumps and controls was so large that the architect had to include it as an element of design.

The Fountain was originally called the “Fountain of Friendship in Dallas Thomas Park”; friendship at the suggestion of a Rotary Club member and Dallas Thomas after the city's parks and finance commissioner. However, when Thomas was later involved in a scandal and indicted, the park was renamed in 1968.


When a city-owned restaurant and parking lot were built on the property, the park was cut by more than half.  Essentially, all the design structures in the park were removed—with the exception of the fountain itself—for what became a boondoggle. Harbormasters Restaurant was supposed to bring large crowds to the southbank riverwalk, but the venture failed, leaving the city $3 million in debt. The River City Brewing Company, which replaced Harbormasters in November 1993, has been successful, but because the City owns the land, they pay no property taxes.

Long service

Friendship Fountain functioned for over 20 years and was refurbished in December 1985, before resuming operation for another 15 years. Finally, wear and corrosion forced its closure at the end of the century. A five month, $1.3 million rehabilitation began when the fountain was drained in March, 2001. A new feature was added: six light towers with computer-controlled color-changing floodlights. Unanticipated damage to stainless steel pipes was uncovered, requiring a $97,000 increase in cost and two month delay, but the fountain re-opened in December 2001. It operated for seven months until a power outage/voltage spike damaged the computer controller and blew out 40 lights & lenses on April 29, 2002. That was repaired, and the fountain was fully functional for nearly 3 years. It was a major attraction at Super Bowl XXXIX in February 2005, but two months later, 2 of the 3 original (40-year old) pumps failed and parts were no longer available. The replacement cost for the pumps was estimated at $400,000, but the city budget was tight and money was not available. The fountain has been running on one pump since then with a greatly reduced flow.

Friendship Fountain during the 1960s.

The five prior images were taken by Metro Jacksonville in February 2009.

A New Beginning

The future of the Jacksonville landmark was in doubt for a number of years. A number of proposals were made, including moving Kids Kampus from Metropolitan Park and eliminating the fountain, rebuilding a smaller fountain or renovating the existing fountain. As of May 2008, there was $15 million in the city's capital projects budget to improve the Southbank Riverwalk, which includes the area around Friendship Fountain; but Mayor Peyton said that is not enough.

In May 2009, a new proposal was published in Metro Jacksonville for the renovation of Friendship Fountain Park and repairs to the Fountain itself. The Jacksonville City Council approved final plans for a $3.2 million renovation and repair to the surrounding park and Friendship Fountain on February 9, 2010.

On August 10, 2010, The Friends of Friendship Fountain Website, reported communications from the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission that AC General Inc was named Contractor for the project and that Ground breaking was expected in 2 – 3 weeks.

On September 1, 2010 an Official Ground breaking was held starting the renovation of Friendship Fountain and Park. Coverage by The Times Union, ActionNews, TV 4 The Local New, Blog entries from The Park has been closed for the renovation and the construction is expected to take about 9 months. Ongoing coverage of the renovation will be posted on once or twice a month during the work.

Friendship Fountain Grand Reopening

Sights and scenes from Friendship Fountain's Grand Reopening.

Ron Barton

Mayor John Peyton

Friendship Fountain Architect Taylor Hardwick with the Haydon Burns Library (another Hardwick landmark) in the background.

Metro Jacksonville has always been in support of better utilizing our existing assets in a manner that preserves our community's history, while also setting us apart from our peers.  When the fountain's future was in doubt, we were a vocal supporter in the preservation of the fountain.  This project is now a real life successful example of the positive benefits of historic preservation within our urban landscape.

Article by Ennis Davis.  Images by Steve Congro, Ennis Davis and Mike Field.