The Capitol Mall fountain has been in Sacramento for a century. Don’t tear it down

Who doesn’t love a fountain? Everyone, except (apparently) the California Department of General Services (DGS).

After neglecting the fountain at the head of Sacramento’s Capitol Mall for about a decade, DGS has proposed demolishing it as part of the Jesse M. Unruh Building Renovation Project. The Capitol fountain and adjacent buildings encompass the federally registered historic district called the Capitol Extension Group.

Located in the circle between the Unruh Building and the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building, the fountain also provides an aesthetic compliment by tying the two Beaux-Arts-style buildings together. As the central element to the plaza, the fountain has framed California’s Capitol since 1928. The beauty of this fountain reflects its purpose: “Celebrate California.” Yet DGS is proposing to demolish this historic accent piece. Why? That’s what residents, preservationists and legislators want to know.


Over the years, DGS indicated the fountain would be restored. Sactown Magazine’s Rob Turner reported that in 2012 DGS said there was “currently a repair being made to the water line that feeds the fountain in the traffic circle. We hope to have the water line repaired by spring.”

Turner also reported that in the beginning of 2014 DGS said it is was “exploring potential funding mechanisms for the repair of [the] fountain.” But later that year after the Library and Courts Building was renovated without the fountain, Turner reported DGS said: “Maintenance and repair of the historic fountain is likely going to be included in the Jesse Unruh building renovation project that is slated for 2017/2018.”

Now, as part of the renovation project, DGS is proposing to demolish the fountain. What’s motivating DGS?

Eleanor VanAcker

DGS’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the renovation project agrees demolishing the fountain would be a negative change to the historic district. The DEIR did list “electrical shortages in lighting, failed mechanical equipment, fountain bowl leaks and a possible drain line collapse” as issues, but these conditions are repairable and don’t justify demolition. Also, the Secretary of Interior’s standards for historic buildings don’t allow the unnecessary removal of a historical element.

The DEIR states the fountain is a significant historic resource with a high degree of historic integrity and listed renovation of the fountain as an option. DGS rejected this option and, instead, is recommending demolition for reasons that seem to change over time. In a recently released statement, a DGS deputy director described the fountain as “unrepairable.” (Preservation Sacramento had a contractor look at the fountain, and he confirmed it is repairable, and the DEIR confirms this, too.)

And DGS has the money approved for the Unruh Building Renovation Project. The state received approximately $3.4 billion for new construction and renovations over the next five years, of which DGS received approval for $70 million for the Unruh project.

Gregory VanAcker

The Capitol fountain is repairable and can be fully functioning with recirculated water, using less than one toilet flush of water per day. When functioning with active water sprays, it is a focal point for downtown workers, tourists and visitors to enjoy. The fountain ensures an appealing view of the state Capitol: its active water would draw tourists, and it frames the Capitol when taking photos.

A restored fountain would also enhance the new underground Capitol Visitors’ Center proposed for the Capitol’s west side on 10th Street. Roughly 1 million tourists visit the Capitol building annually, and the visitor center’s entrance would be directly across from the fountain. Restoring the fountain would link the Capitol to the mall, as well as complement the city’s efforts to redesign the mall to bring more pedestrians to it.

Finally, we believe DGS should protect historic resources, and restore the fountain. California cities have successfully restored historic fountains: Sacramento’s Chavez Plaza Park fountain, Los Angeles’ Mulholland Memorial Fountain and San Diego’s Broadway Fountain in Horton Plaza Park. If you agree, please email with “Restore Fountain” in the subject line, and include your name and zip code in the message. Help us convince DGS to restore the Capitol fountain, now. And let’s celebrate California!

Gregory and Eleanor VanAcker are members of Preservation Sacramento.
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