Bronze sculptures of children are the first to come down in Bronson Park renovation effort

Bronze sculptures of children, removed from the reflecting bond near the Bronson Park band shell Monday, April 9, 2018, are carefully loaded onto pallets for moving and storage. The work signaled the start of a project to remove the fountain and concrete pond system in favor of green space. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)

City work crews began dismantling one of the concrete ponds in Bronson Park on Monday, by carefully removing the bronze sculptures of children scattered through the pond near the band shell.

The children adorn one of the reflecting pools in a nearly 80-year-old fountain system that has been a centerpiece of the park for decades. The structure's main focal point--a pioneer standing over a Native American--has also been a center of controversy.

On March 6, the Kalamazoo City Commission voted to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers -- mostly due to the controversy, but also because of the immense cost of refurbishing the fountains and the concrete pools.

"This vote was not to erase history, destroy art or deprive our community of a beloved feature of Bronson Park," Mayor Bobby Hopewell said in a written statement following the vote. "This vote recognizes that there is a place for this type of reflection, but one of our most public areas is not that place.

Hopewell said the decision reflected future concerns as well as the past.

"With the originally planned investment of more than $1 million into the restoration of the Fountain of the Pioneers, do we want to be investing this amount of resources into this fountain," Hopewell said. "While this decision to remove the fountain is not without its own cost, it is expected to be approximately $200,000 and we are pursuing outside resources to offset these costs."

Work to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers, on the other end of the park from the sculptures of children, is not likely to begin until next week. Work crews i the park Monday said there is a great deal of preparation that must be completed before the main fountain statue can be removed.

According to the Kalamazoo Public Library, the fountains have decorated the park since 1879.

"The Fountain of the Pioneers," which replaced an earlier one, has stood at the center of the eastern half of Bronson Park since 1940. Alfonso Iannelli designed and supervised construction of the fountain, which was built using Works Progress Administration funding. The bronze children were added to the reflecting pool, part of the original Ianelli design, to commemorate the United States bicentennial in 1976.

According to the Kalamazoo Public Library, local artist Kirk Newman used the biblical verse "When justice and mercy prevail, children may safely play" as his inspiration for the children sculptures.

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