Across Independence Avenue from the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
Bartholdi Park serves as a home landscape demonstration garden and showcases innovative plant combinations in a variety of styles and design themes. The U.S. Botanic Garden Administration Building and the Bartholdi Fountain is located in the park.
Bartholdi Park was created in 1932 and named for Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the historic fountain located at its center. The beds in the park were geometrically arranged and planted in formal classical style to feature the fountain and to accommodate public gatherings. The plantings have been redesigned during the last decade and are continuously updated to reflect modern trends in American horticulture and new plant introductions.
The fountain in the park’s center was purchased in 1877 by the United States for $6,000. The iron fountain sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (later famous for the Statue of Liberty) had stood at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who was redesigning the Capitol grounds at the time, had learned that the fountain was available and recommended to Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark that it be bought and placed in a suitable location.
A new water basin was built opposite the U.S. Botanic Garden's Conservatory’s principal (north) front, located in the center of the National Mall, to receive the fountain. The fountain then moved to its present location in Bartholdi Park in 1932.
The “Fountain of Light and Water” is intended to be an allegorical representation of water and light, designed in three identical sections with classical forms and symbols. Turtle-like aquatic monsters and large shells surround the base. The pedestal holds three sea nymphs seem to hold the large basin, which is actually supported by the central column. Above the basin, three youthful tritons playfully hold out seaweed. Water spills from a crown at the very top into the upper basin, while jets shoot from the mouths of the fish and turtles.
The cast-iron fountain, painted to look like bronze, weighs more than 15 tons and is 30 feet high. It was originally lit by 12 gas lamps, making the fountain one of the first nighttime attractions in Washington, D.C. Battery-powered electric igniters replaced these lamps in 1881. The lights surrounding the large basin were added in 1885, and the fountain was completely electrified in 1915.
In 2008 the Architect of the Capitol began a complete restoration of the fountain and its basin. The restoration is the first complete deconstruction and restoration since 1927. The restoration was commissioned to address corrosion and excessive wear to the fountain and included repairing deteriorated metal, replacing interior mechanical and electrical components and replacing the lighting with new energy-efficient fixtures true to the style of the fountain’s original glass sconces. The fountain also received modern improvements energy efficient pumps and motors, a new water treatment and filtration system and a zinc coating to preserve the original cast-iron of the fountain that dates back to 1876.
After much of the restoration was completed off-site, the fountain returned to Bartholdi Park in spring 2011.