The Esplanade’s Lotta Fountain will get long-awaited restoration

The Lotta Fountain hasn't worked for years.
The Lotta Fountain hasn't worked for years. –Dialynn Dwyer / Boston.com

A dog statue on the Esplanade that was once a water fountain for passing canines will soon be returned to its former glory.

Tani Marinovich, executive director of the Esplanade Association, said the nonprofit had been wanting to restore the artwork—known as the Lotta Fountain—for more than a decade, but did not have the funding to do so until recently. Now, the association is partnering with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the land where statue sits, to make the fountain look, and work, like new.

“This is the next area we wanted to restore because we feel like it will create a place for people with their dogs on the Esplanade,” Marinovich said. “It’s actually going to be a nice place to sit. And it also has a lot of historical significance because of the history of the statue.”

Charlotte "Lotta" Crabtree
Charlotte “Lotta” Crabtree —The Esplanade Association
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The Lotta Fountain was built in 1939 and named for Charlotte “Lotta” Crabtree, an entertainer and philanthropist who retired in Boston. Born in New York in 1847, Crabtree’s career started when she was a young girl dancing and singing in the gold rush camps in California. By 1880, she was one of the most famous actresses performing in the United States and England, earning up to $5,000 a week, Marinovich said.

When she retired, Crabtree moved to Boston and bought the Hotel Brewster, where she lived until she died. Marinovich said at the time of her death in 1924, she was the second wealthiest taxpayer in Boston with an estate valued at about $4 million.

The headline of a Boston Globe article from September 30, 1924.
The headline of a Boston Globe article from September 30, 1924. —Boston Globe Archives

The bulk of her funds went to several trusts to assist causes including animal welfare, actors, aspiring farmers, and World War I veterans. Money from the animal fund was used to build the fountain near the Hatch Shell, and Angelo Tilas, the Esplanade District Supervisor for the Department of Recreation, said the sculpture of the dog is said to be a replica of Crabtree’s own four-legged companion.

Marinovich said artist Katharine Weems, who made the dolphin sculpture at the New England Aquarium, was commissioned to create the sculpture atop the fountain that would serve the animals “Lotta” loved.

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The fountain was moved in 1949 in preparation for the construction of Storrow Drive and now sits next to the Esplanade Playspace near the Fiedler Footbridge.

The Lotta Fountain
—Dialynn Dwyer / Boston.com

Tilas, who’s retiring in December, said restoring the function of the fountain — which he estimated hasn’t worked since the early ‘90s — was on his “work bucket list.” While there are water stations throughout the Esplanade for dogs to drink from, he said the fountain is special because it was built specifically for animals.

“It’s not just a sculpture or a piece of art, it has a purpose,” he said. “Not just looking pretty. And it’s going to look very pretty, and its purpose is coming back.”

Marinovich said the fountain’s proximity to the river, it’s landmarked status, the number of people involved, and lack of funding are all challenges that have made it difficult to move the project forward.

A rendering of the project.
A rendering of the project. —Jeff Stikeman for the Esplanade Association

The fountain’s plumbing will be repaired, the color of the stone will be renewed to resemble how it looked in 1939, and elements of the fountain that have broken away over the years, such as the face of a cat that once spouted water will be fixed as part of the $250,000 project, Marinovich said.

In addition, bronze caps will be used to cover the long-defunct bubblers to the right and left of the fountain, the ground area will be regraded to improve accessibility, and the landscaping surrounding the benches and fountain will be enhanced, according to a presentation on the project by the department of conservation and recreation.

The broken face of a cat will be prepared as part of the project.
The broken face of a cat will be prepared as part of the project. —Dialynn Dwyer / Boston.com
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“Sometimes we don’t do enough for animals, and this is one thing that we can do to help our animal friends again,” Tilas said.

Marinovich said there’s already been some work done to improve the surrounding area. The state fixed a leaky pipe that was making the ground around the fountain soggy, and some of the older trees have been pruned to let more light through.

“It’s a really lovely art deco statue,” she said. “It’s really a piece of art in the Esplanade, where there are so few statues in general. It’s really a nice little spot to congregate.”

Work on the fountain will start in late July and finish in the fall.

Lotta fountain
The fountain as seen on a recent June afternoon. —Dialynn Dwyer / Boston.com

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