History of Kansas City’s Fountains and the Foundation’s Role
For more than 100 years, symbolic equestrian figures, Roman gods, sea horses and and myriad other bronze and stone figures have graced Kansas City’s fountains.
The push to design fountains in Kansas City was sparked by George Kessler, a landscape architect and urban planner during the “City Beautiful” movement of the 1890s. Kessler designed the city’s first fountain at 15th Street and The Paseo in 1898. Although it was destroyed in 1941, he created a second fountain that was completed in 1899. Located at Ninth Street & The Paseo, The Women’s Leadership Fountain is Kansas City’s oldest working fountain. It bears the names of 13 women who made notable contributions to the community
Today, Kansas City has about 40 operating, publicly owned fountains, and there are scores of others in suburban cities, in private developments — like the Country Club Plaza — and in neighborhoods.
The City of Fountains Foundation (COFF) — a (501)(c)(3) nonprofit — works with the city’s Parks & Recreation Department to insure ongoing funding and maintenance for the city’s fountains, monuments and sculptures. The foundation has more than $4 million in about 40 separate, income-generating endowment accounts, and it taps those accounts as needed for specific projects.
The City of Fountains Foundation (COFF) was established in 1973 by Hallmark Cards executive Harold Rice after he and his wife Peggy made a trip to Rome. The couple was extremely impressed by the number and quality of fountains there, and Harold Rice determined that Kansas City, which already had quite a few fountains, should be the City of Fountains in the U.S.
Rice assembled four other people to help start the foundation. Besides him, the other charter board members were John W. Lottes, president of the Kansas City Art Institute; Jeannette Lee, head of Hallmark’s art department and a Hallmark board member; Robert J. Wharton, head of the trust department at First National Bank; and Eugene C. Hall, an attorney in private practice who had served as Hallmark’s in-house counsel from 1958 to 1970.
The board’s first meeting took place at 10 a.m. June 27, 1973, at Hall’s office in the Bryant Building downtown. As of 2022, Hall was the only surviving member of the original group. He will be 92 on July 9, 2022. He remains a member of the foundation’s Advisory Board.
The Foundation’s main role is to promote and advocate for publicly owned fountains. In addition, we hold endowments for about 30 Kansas City fountains, monuments and sculptures, and we appropriate funds from those accounts, as we see fit, to help conserve and repair those pieces. Occasionally, we get involved in new-fountain construction or relocation, or recommending sites for sculptures and monuments.
Officers and Board of Directors 2023-2024
President, Mark McHenry, President
Vice President, Casey Cassias
Treasurer, Sherri L. Hartnett
Virginia Salazar Bellis
Charles S. Cassias, Jr.
Jonathan N. Dilly, JD
David T. Ford
David P. Ross
Advisory Board Members
Chris Cotten – Director, Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department
K. Christy Cubbage – Municipal Art Commission Representative
James H. Bernard, Jr.
Charles A. Garney
Eugene C. Hall
Philip A. Jones
Michael H. Malyn
Linda D. Ward
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