Whether they stand stoic as a memorial, or lend a touch of European flair to our Mediterranean climate, fountains characterize much of the streetscapes and parkland of Los Angeles.
After all, we’re practically always dreaming of water here.
And even if you’re a little more inland than you’d like to be, you can enjoy the spouts and water shows in Echo Park Lake and MacArthur Park Lake, at the San Pedro Waterfront, and even The Grove and The Americana at Brand.
For some, fountains are beacons; for others, a meeting place where they can come together and pass some time.
We don’t always know the stories behind them – or what’s literally buried beneath them.
Here are eight of the best watery wonders in the L.A. region, where you can stop and feel the mist on your face, take in some art and pay tribute to those who have come and gone before us.
1. Cascades Park, Midwick View Estates, Monterey Park
Just six miles as the crow flies from Downtown L.A., Midwick View Estates was the brainchild of Peter N. Snyder, who meant for the Spanish-style development to be another affluent, whites-only enclave like Bel Air or Beverly Hills – only, east of L.A., in the City of Monterey Park (incorporated 1916). Construction began in 1928, but in the advent of the 1929 stock market crash and the Depression that followed, it was never completed. The 356-acre development is now marked only by its original sales office (dreamily named “El Encanto,” which now houses The Greater Chamber of Commerce of Monterey Park) and Cascades Park, a manmade, terraced waterfall at the other end of the grand esplanade of El Portal Place.
Also known as Heritage Falls since 1991, the water feature still bears the coat of arms of the original development. Spanish tiles run along the cascading levels of the waterfall – all the way up to a fountain at the top, which bears a statue meant to depict the Greek goddess Athena, a nod to Snyder’s Greek heritage. The original was stolen decades ago, so the one that stands today is a replica installed by the Monterey Park Historical Society in 2005. You can walk along staircases on either side of the waterfall to get to the top – but the entire landscape provides a popular backdrop for photos, both in daylight and at night, with its colored lighting scheme.
Use 700 S. Atlantic Boulevard, 91754 as your destination address and park along De La Fuente Street.
2. LADWP Headquarters, Downtown Los Angeles
Some might say that the series of eight water fountains – and the floodlighting that illuminates them – is essential for the headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to convey both “water” and “power.” And boy, does that 1.2-million-gallon reflecting pool make a statement! And not just because it circulates 20,000 gallons per minute – or that it protects the A.C. Martin-designed building’s perimeter with a kind of glassy, lit-up moat (anchored by the large, wing-shaped sculpture "Colpo d'ala" by Arnaldo Pomodoro, a gift from Italy in 1988 in gratitude for the U.S. financing the restoration of Italy’s WWII-ravaged economy).
The water feature is actually a high-tech solution for the building’s heating and cooling system – part of the HVAC system and instead of a boiler. It’s the ultimate in making the monumental, International Style John Ferraro Building – known as the General Office Building of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power until 2000 – self-contained and self-sufficient. Completed in 1965 and constructed at the same time as The Music Center, the LADWP headquarters became the first high-rise on the top of the newly flattened Bunker Hill.
The John Ferraro Building is open weekdays except Fridays and is closed weekends and major holidays. Enter on foot from Hope Street and take the pedestrian bridge across the water to the plaza. Free public parking spaces provided in Lot 6 during meetings of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, held monthly on the first and third Tuesday.
3. William Mulholland Memorial Fountain, Los Angeles Aqueduct Centennial Garden, Los Feliz
At the corner of Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Feliz, spitting distance from the Los Angeles River, you’ll find a shrine to the “Father” of L.A.’s water system, William Mulholland – built approximately on the site where Mulholland once lived in a cabin, worked as a water laborer (technically a ditch-tender) and taught himself to be a civil engineer. Designed by Walter S. Claberg, the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain was originally dedicated in 1940, five years after the former water supervisor’s death, thanks largely to contributions and donations from local schoolchildren. After occasional forced periods of dormancy (either because of oil rationing or droughts), the electrified fountain eventually fell into disrepair – but its mechanisms were reconstructed and the fountain was rededicated in 1996. It now lights up gloriously and colorfully at night.
The park that surrounds the fountain, the Los Angeles Aqueduct Centennial Garden, was built by LADWP crews in conjunction with the centennial celebration of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 2013. A walking path recreates the aqueduct’s 340-mile journey from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, terminating at a replica of The Cascades. The commemorative garden also features a section of the original aqueduct pipe, 10 feet in diameter, water-wise landscaping and a bronze bas-relief portrait of Mulholland by Grace Banks Eldridge that was added in 1959.
Park across Riverside Drive in one of the lots dedicated to Griffith Park facilities.
4. Electric Fountain, Beverly Gardens Park, Beverly Hills
The L.A. area’s first electrified water fountain – in fact, the first in the nation to feature underwater lighting – is the Electric Fountain in Beverly Hills. After a $1.5-million facelift, it was rededicated in 2016 – but it was originally gifted to the city in 1931 by silent-screen star Harold Lloyd’s mother, Sarah Elizabeth (Fraser) Lloyd. The Women’s Club of Beverly Hills paid for it to be installed on land donated by the Rodeo Land and Water Company. Then known as the “Electric Color Fountain,” it provided a repeating, rainbow-colored water spectacle whose programmed lighting system dazzled spectators with an eight-minute water show with jets timed to colored lights. A total of 60 different combinations of spray were possible – and at the time, the sight was so spectacular that reportedly thousands stopped their cars to ogle it.
Thirty feet in diameter and edged with ceramic tile, the fountain is the work of architect Ralph Carlin Flewelling. But at the 3-foot high circular base, a bas-relief designed by (Robert) Merrell Gage shows California’s Mission Period, and the Los Angeles Pobladores who settled here. At one time the president of the California Art Club, Gage was also responsible for sculpting the façade of the Los Angeles Times building in Downtown L.A. He also contributed a six-foot figure of a kneeling member of the Tongva tribe, the original inhabitants of the area who called Beverly Hills “the gathering of the waters” (translated in Spanish to “El Rodeo de las Aguas”).
Find it on the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards, at the western terminus of Beverly Gardens Park. The park is bookended at the city’s eastern gateway by the Doheny Fountain, also circa 1931, designed by the first official resident architect of Beverly Hills, W. Asa Hudson. Park on Walden Drive or any of the residential side streets that intersect with Beverly Gardens Park north of Santa Monica Boulevard. Walk the rest of the way along the path.
5. The Flight of Europa Fountain, Chase Bank, Hollywood
Known for his Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center in New York City, Paul Manship contributed the design for the bronze sculpture in a large fountain at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, The Flight of Europa. It depicts the famous scene in Greek mythology when Zeus transforms into a strapping bull to seduce Europa, a Phoenician maiden (and namesake of Europe). She perhaps unwittingly rides his back as he abducts her to Crete. All the while, Cupid whispers in her ear.
Although the sculpture was reportedly intended for a swimming pool – with water symbolizing the Mediterranean – it now graces the front entrance of the former Home Savings and Loan, circa 1968, which was built on the site where parts of Hollywood's first full-length motion picture, "The Squaw Man," were filmed in 1913. Formerly known as a Washington Mutual branch and now rebranded Chase Bank, it’s known for its Millard Sheets-designed mosaic mural of Hollywood’s biggest stars in their star-making roles.
Plenty of metered street parking on both Sunset and Vine, or park in the surface lot in the back if you’re going to do some banking at Chase. It’s also a short walk from the Metro Red Line station at Hollywood / Vine.
6. “Youth Triumphant” Fountain, Alumni Memorial Park, USC
One of the USC campus’s staggering 30 fountains – count ’em all! – is “Youth Triumphant” by Bavarian sculptor Frederick William Schweigardt. Topped by a bronze dancing figure, this Neoclassical style is actually a replica of Schweigardt’s fountain “The Four Cornerstones of American Democracy,” both featuring four cast concrete figures representing Home, Community, Church and, of course, School. The original fountain is still in the Hall of Youth in the grand foyer of the former Palace of Education (now the Balboa Park Club building) at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, for which Schweigardt was the “official sculptor.” Donated in 1935 by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Carman-Ryles in memory of their son, Edward L. Prentiss, a former USC student who died in 1933, the replica became henceforth known as the Prentiss Memorial Fountain. It was renovated in 1979 and 2002.
It’s located at Alumni Park by the front entrance of Doheny Memorial Library – a four-story, Italian Romanesque-style landmark that was created in 1930 as a memorial to Edward L. “Ned” Doheny Jr., a USC trustee and alumnus who was tragically murdered at Greystone Mansion the year prior. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram of the Cram and Ferguson, it became the university’s first freestanding library.
Enter the campus via the private USC McCarthy Way. Parking is available for a fee in a nearby structure by McCarthy Quad.
7. Electric Fountain, Glenarm Power Plant, Pasadena
Besides its City Hall, one of the most recognizable icons of Pasadena may be the monumental, electrical power-generating Glenarm Power Plant, located at the northern terminus of the 110 Freeway and the southern end of town. The Municipal Light and Power Department first powered the City of Pasadena on July 4, 1907 – and it’s now known Pasadena Water and Power, a not-for-profit utility that’s owned and operated by the City of Pasadena. And although it’s an actively working power plant that’s understandably fenced off and closely guarded, you can stand outside the landmark Glenarm Steam Plant Building by Pasadena’s own Bennett & Haskell Architects (also the team behind the city’s Civic Auditorium) – built in 1928 and 1932 in the Moderne architectural style as an addition to the now-demolished original power plant – and admire its adjoining electric fountain.
Together, the Art Deco fountain (circa 1938) and the intact steam turbine building comprise a city-designated historic monument. The fountain is actually an integral part of the plant, having replaced an original cooling tower (circa 1906) that cooled steam turbine #8 and the building itself. The electric fountain, the third and final example of such fountains in the L.A. region, retains its original cast-stone walls, tiled circular basin (featuring images of the Pasadena logo with lightning bolts coming out of it) and translucent glass paneled tower. Its underground mechanical, plumbing, and structural components were replaced in 2012. And its water is still flowing.
The fountain is located at the southeast corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and E. Glenarm Street at the west elevation of the power plant site. To get a closer look on foot, park on Fair Oaks north of State Street or on South Raymond Street north of Glenarm.
8. La Bella Fontana di Napoli, Naples Island, Long Beach
A. M. Parsons, founder of the Naples Co., was to Long Beach’s Naples Island in 1903 what Abbott Kinney was to Venice in 1905. At the center of the island, Parsons designed a circular park, surrounded by the Rivo Alto Canal, before any roads reached it. Its ornate lampposts had to be carried in by barge. Decades after Parsons sold his Naples development, the Belmont Shore Development Company donated “Circle Park” to the City of Long Beach in 1933. The following year, Long Beach’s Park Commission renamed it “Bella Flora Park.”
In 1971, a three-tiered circular fountain was added to the park, which was rechristened La Bella Fontana di Napoli (“The Beautiful Fountain of Naples”), part of The Colonnade park. This Neapolitan-type fountain, which was brought in from the East Coast, has now become synonymous with the charming beachside enclave and is tended to by the non-profit Naples Islands Garden Club, which has focused on maintenance and beautification of the fountain and park for much of its history, with as many as eight official cleanups a year.
Access the park and fountain by crossing over the Rivo Alto Canal via East The Toledo or Ravenna Drive. Limited parking is available on surrounding streets.
Bonus: "Topographic Map of Water Sources in County of Los Angeles," Hall of Records, Downtown L.A.
One of the civic artworks contributed by mosaicist Joseph L. Young – just two blocks from his Triforium sculpture – is a 1962 bas-relief mural and fountain made of Italian glass mosaic tile, polished and rough granite, and copper tubing known as "Topographic Map of Water Sources in County of Los Angeles." At 20 feet high by 80 feet wide, it provides a large-scale, abstract geologic view of Los Angeles County and its water resources.
Water hasn’t always flowed through the mural – it ran dry for 20 years until a 2007-8 refurbishment, just after Young’s death. And although the streams aren’t running down across the black mountains, brown valleys, and green and blue ocean as long as conservation efforts are underway, the large reflecting pool at the wall’s base is still filled.
Find it in Downtown L.A.’s Civic Center, located on the northern face of the Richard Neutra-designed Los Angeles County Hall of Records, integrated into the exterior wall of the auditorium, along Temple Street between N. Hill Street and North Broadway.