Located in the centre of Grant Park in Chicago, the Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world and a prominent landmark of the city. As the Grand Park is the city's front yard near the intersection of Columbus Drive and Ida B Wells Drive, the Buckingham Fountain, situated in the park, is also considered as the front door of Chicago. Officially named as the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, it was commissioned by an avid art collector and philanthropist Kate Sturges Buckingham as a memorial for her brother Clarence and was constructed at a cost of $750,000.The fountain was donated to the city and was dedicated on 26 August 1927. Apart from financing the fountain, Kate Buckingham also established the Buckingham Fountain Endowment Fund with an initial investment of $300,000 to pay for its recurring maintenance.
Constructed of Georgia pink marble in a decorated wedding cake style, the design of the Buckingham Fountain was inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles and happened to be double the size of the original. While the huge fountain represents the neighbouring enormous Lake Michigan, the four sets of the decorative sea horses, with a couple of them in a set, symbolises the four states that border the lake, namely Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
The Buckingham Fountain was designed by architect Edward H Bennett and the sculptures, including the four sets of Art Deco-style seahorses, were created by French artist Marcel Loyau, who was awarded the Prix National at the 1927 Paris Salon for the project. The original design of the fountain included coloured lighting to emulate soft moonlight. The dedication of the fountain was celebrated in August 1927, when John Philip Sousa conducted and his band played ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ before an audience of 50,000 people.
The top of the upper basin of the fountain stands 25 feet above the water in the lower basin. While the bottom pool of the fountain is 280 feet in diameter, the lower basin is 103 feet, the middle basin is 60 feet and the upper basin is 24 feet. It has the capacity to contain 1.5 gallons of water and depending on wind conditions, major displays recirculate approximately 14,100 gallons of water per minute conveyed through 134 jets. Excepting to replace losses from wind and evaporation, water is recirculated from the base pool after the basins are filled and not drawn from the outside.
According to the original design, the lighting display of the fountain is made up of 820 lights meant to convey an effect of soft moonlight. It was entirely manually operated by two stationary engineers and each of them had to work a daily twelve-hour shift till 1980, when the operations were fully computerized. The pumps of the fountain, controlled by a Honeywell computer, were previously located in Atlanta, Georgia. However, after the 1994 renovation of the fountain, it was moved to the pump house of the fountain. The computer system was subsequently upgraded by the Chicago Park District in 2013, with a non-proprietary Allen-Bradley PLC System. Today, all of the automation and monitoring are on-site, with remote alarm monitoring and notification.
At dusk, Buckingham Fountain comes to life with a spectacular light and music display, along with a major water display for 20 minutes every hour. During the major display, the center jet of the fountain shoots water to a height of 150 feet into the air.
In 1994, the Buckingham Fountain underwent a major conservation project, relating to the restoration to its three smallest basins which developed leaks. Between 2009 and 2012 additional repairs were made in a three-phase project, which included upgrading the computer system, repairing the aging internal systems in the fountain and improving the landscape surrounding the monument. Apart from the Buckingham endowment and the city and park district, the Lollapalooza music festival, which is held annually near the fountain, also contributed to the project.