One of the largest fountains in the world, the fountain’s design was inspired by one of the elaborate fountains at the Palace of Versailles in France, Latona Basin. However, it is actually double the size of the original fountain – the size is meant to symbolize the grand magnitude of Lake Michigan!
Where Is Buckingham Fountain Located?
Buckingham Fountain is located at 301 S. Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL, 60601 in Grant Park. Referred to as “Chicago’s Front Yard”, Grant Park showcases 312.98 acres within the city’s central business district in the Loop Community area.
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About Buckingham Fountain
Art collector and philanthropist Kate Sturges Buckingham commissioned the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain to commemorate her brother Clarence. The main design was created by Edward H. Bennett, while the fountain’s Art Deco-style seahorse sculptures were devised by renowned French artist Marcel Loyau, who won the Prix National at the 1927 Paris Salon for designing the sculptures. During the Fountain’s dedication in 1927, John Philip Sousa’s band played “Pomp and Circumstance” in front of an audience of 50,000 people.
The Fountain’s four basins are composed of pink Georgia marble and ornately carved granite elements, while the seahorse sculptures are bronze. Sculptor Loyau studied the seahorse collection at a Parisian zoo. The seahorses represent the four states that border Lake Michigan: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
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Originally, the fountain was operated manually by two stationary engineers who each worked a daily twelve-hour shift. Because of this, the water displays occurred only twice a day, three times per week. However, they became so popular that the displays were offered daily in the late 1950s. The engineers used a keyboard with 21 electric switches that produced different light and color effects.
The light show was first automated in 1968, and the entire system became computerized in 1980. In 1994, the computer system switched from remote operations based in Atlanta to on-site in Chicago. Since the late 90s, repairs and upgrades have been made to keep the fountain operational.
How Does the Fountain Operate?
Buckingham Fountain produces an incredible 20-minute water display every hour. During the major water showcase, a center jet shoots water 150 feet into the air. The water displays are powered by three pumps. The first pump keeps the water running throughout the day, and the second and third pumps turn on during the water display.
Major displays begin daily at 9:00 a.m. and continue every hour on the hour. Each evening at dusk, visitors can enjoy a fantastic light and music display that accompanies the water showcase. Guests can visit every hour on the hour, and the final major display occurs at 10:35 p.m.
Fun Fact: The fountain has its original underground pump house with two levels. The control room is located on the first level, and the lower level pump room is 35 feet long by 25 feet wide. The Fountain’s original pumps and motors are still in operation.
Structure of the Fountain
- Buckingham holds 1.5 million gallons of water. Major displays recirculate nearly 14,100 gallons of water per minute through 134 jets.
- The fountain recirculates water from the base pool of the filled basins.
- 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.
- The top of the upper basin stands 25 feet above the water in the lower basin.
Kate Buckingham desired to create a fountain that emitted a soft moonlight effect. She worked with technicians to test a variety of glass filter colors and currents to create an ethereal appearance. Altogether, the fountain contains 820 lights.
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The Best Time to Take a Picture
The Fountain is open every day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the fountain is active from May through mid-October. The best time to take a picture at Buckingham Fountain is after sunset when the music and light display comes to life. However, you can see the 20-minute water display every hour on the hour.
Where to Park Near Buckingham Fountain
Street parking can be hard to come by, but there are plenty of parking garages you can take advantage of such as the Grant Park Underground Garage at Monroe and Columbus. Note it’ll be about a fifteen-minute walk from nearby garages.
Public transportation and ride share apps are the easiest ways to get to Buckingham Fountain. That way, you don’t have to deal with parking or a long walk. Visitors can also bike around Chicago by using Divvy Bikes. Rent a bike for a single trip or for the whole day from one of Divvy Bikes’ stations.
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Nearby Bus Stations: Balbo & Columbus (East); Michigan & Ida B Wells Drive (North); Ida B Wells Drive & Michigan (West); Van Buren St.; Michigan/Van Buren; Harrison; Adams/Wabash.
Closest Train Station: Van Buren Street Station
Closest Subway Station: Van Buren Street Station