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Ventnor Fountain Friends, saving history and enriching the community.

When playing Monopoly it's always a good idea to own Water Works. In real life you can now help restore some of the site's historic charm through the restoration of its historic fountain.

Post Card of the Historic Ventnor Fountain at Water Works, Ventnor New Jersey

The cherubs are missing their heads… the gargoyles have eroded… and the figure at the top is nowhere to be found. Ventnor’s stately water fountain, built over 100 years ago, has fallen into tragic disrepair. Standing in front of the Ventnor Public Works Building (formerly called Ventnor Water Works), the fountain is finally getting some love, thanks to the vision of a group of resident volunteers.

One of those volunteers is Dawn Burke Sena, a lady who embraces history. Her Panorama restaurant in Philadelphia is over 200 years old, as is her Philadelphia home. Her Ventnor home is 100 years old. Sena Burke says she has “a deep affection for restoration and making the old new again,” so when she took a close look at Ventnor’s fountain, she felt compelled to act. Seven years ago, she began brainstorming with two neighbors who have since passed away, Maxine Stonehill and Louis Selgrath. The small band of three began to set the wheels in motion. Sena Burke walked into the public works building and starting to dig… not literally, of course, but for more information.

Then the pandemic hit, so she used that time to continue her research and expand her group of supporters. The group voiced its concerns to the city, and in 2023 the nonprofit group Ventnor Fountain Friends (VFF) was created. In agreement with the city of Ventnor, the VFF has begun fundraising to rebuild this majestic piece of the city’s history.

Spearheading the project is an enthusiastic board of directors, including Dawn Burke Sena, president; Tina Ercole LoBiando, vice president; Dave Rumsey, secretary; and Barbara Sullivan, treasurer. The Friends’ first public outreach was at last year’s Ventnor Block Party, which kicked off a summer season filled with awareness and fundraising opportunities. These included appearances at the city’s vibrant farmers’ market, the summer concerts at Newport beach and Ski Beach, and the holiday bazaar at the Ventnor library. Fundraising efforts will shift into high gear with the return of this year’s Block Party on Saturday, May 11, keeping the momentum going all year long.

The fountain and the building behind it were originally built in 1923 by Joseph L. Sweigard & Company of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the fountain’s deterioration is so great that a totally new structure will need to be erected. “Restoring it is not an option,” says Rumsey. “It’s just too far gone.” 

Local architectural firm SOSH will oversee the project and has created a rendering of the future fountain. Local sculptor John Dessicino of Absecon will work on recreating the fountain’s original look by recasting it and pouring concrete. The fountain’s infrastructure needs to be completely renovated, including a new pump, new water lines, and new electrical lines. Mayor Landgraff has said that public works will undertake the demo, which must be done with great precision.

Just beneath the surface of the lawn where the fountain rests is a 600,000-gallon reservoir—one of three in Ventnor—that supplies a significant portion of the city’s potable water. “There’s only about 18 inches of turf between the top of the reservoir and the surface where the fountain sits,” Rumsey explains. “We’re talking about a lot of heavy equipment that will be needed to dismantle the fountain. It’s a delicate operation.”

“Public works employees are often the unsung heroes,” says Sena Burke. “This will be a real moment for them to shine. They’ll need to gingerly take down the fountain. Once down, we plan to offer these pieces of history to interested patrons as a means of raising funds for the reconstruction.”  

Many residents have colorful memories of the fountain site. Longtime resident Joe Schafer, who owns Sundaze ice cream parlor with his wife Rory, recalls playing football on that lawn as a boy. “I remember when the fountain was flowing and there were fish swimming around in its basin,” says Schafer. “In the winter, the fish would be moved inside the front door of the Water Works Building and then be brought out again in the spring. I hope one day it will be stocked with fish again.”  His memories are palpable. “When you stand on that site and look out at the bay and Dorset Avenue Bridge,” Joe visualizes, “the scene is one of the crown jewels of our city.”

Ventnor Fountain Friends and the city commissioners share Joe’s vision and hope to eventually create a picturesque park for all generations to enjoy. The city will further enhance the space by adding new landscaping, benches, and lighting.

“The overall cost of the fountain reconstruction could well top $400,000,” says Rumsey. “Thus, we need to really step up the fundraising efforts.” The city allowed the Friends’ group to enclose an appeal in residents’ water bills in December and has promised to do so again this summer.  “A few generous benefactors would really make a difference,” Rumsey says, “so we’re planning more targeted appeals to residents.” The group also hopes to institute a “planned giving” program, where benefactors can help build a lasting endowment to not only rebuild the fountain but to help maintain it in perpetuity.

Two additional fundraising opportunities will be the chance to purchase a limited number of “memorial” benches as well as tribute paving blocks for the site. Details about those options are forthcoming.

“We are wide eyed—there are no rose-colored glasses,” Sena Burke says. “We’re planning a successful community project that will be long lasting.”

A watercolor rendering of the future space by local artist Steve Kuzma is on display at city hall.

Built in 1920, this once spectacular fountain resides at 101 N. Cornwall Avenue Ventnor, New Jersey on the property of the Water Works Building. Learn more about Ventnor here:

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