Statue atop fountain was part of Italian Pavilion at Pan-Pacific Exposition
By George Kramer
In 1915, two longtime Ashland businessmen, G. S. Butler and Domingo Perozzi, went to the sale held at the conclusion of the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and bought Ashland a present.
The marble fountain, topped with a carved marble cherub, was the focal point of the impressive “Court of Abundance” at the Italian National Pavilion. It was a replica of the famed “Gondi’s Fountain,” in Florence, reproduced in marble by the studio of Antonio Frilli (1860-1902). At the Exposition, the Italian Pavilion, with its four-story tower and beautiful courtyard, was among the most impressive of the national exhibitions. Butler and Perozzi, friends and successful Ashland businessmen, saw the statue when they visited the fair.
Gwin Butler (1854-1947) is considered the first Euro-American born in Jackson County. Orphaned, he was raised by Jacob Thompson. Butler remained in the valley nearly his entire life and amassed a fortune in insurance and real estate. Domingo Perozzi (1871-1941), was born in Switzerland and came to Ashland in 1897. He owned the Ashland Creamery, which stood at the corner of Winburn Way and Nutley street, near the band shell.
Butler and Perozzi purchased the fountain for installation in Ashland’s new Lithia Park, reportedly paying $2,500, a hefty sum in 1915 ($70,000 in today’s dollars). Butler donated the site, a small tract of land facing “Park Road,” (now Winburn Way) and both men provided funding to build the concrete and stucco base. An elegant flight of steps led up from the road and tapered stucco-clad light standards lit the square platform, connecting with pathways to the north and south. Another small stairway led to Granite Street.
The fountain was disassembled in San Francisco and shipped via train to the Ashland Railroad depot. A French sculptor arrived with the crates to install it, directing the work of installation through Mr. Perozzi, who spoke French. “Mr. Perozzi is quite a linguist and is the only man on the works able to understand [the] expert’s directions.” A small carved marble marker commemorates their gift.
Butler and Perozzi made other donations to the community. Butler, especially, left a mark on Ashland through his generosity, also donating the Lincoln Statute that long stood at the entrance to Lithia Park (also by Frilli) and dedicated to his adoptive parents, the Thompsons. His estate largely went to a local foundation, the G.S. Butler Foundation, that to this day provides financial support to local community organizations. Perozzi’s estate donated the creamery site to the city, which during the winters became the site of the Darex Family Ice Rink (now known as Rotary Centennial Ice Rink).
For decades the Butler-Perozzi Fountain was a beloved element of the park, the subject of many postcard views sent to friends and family. Children played in the water; brides, graduates and prom dates took photos there.
At some point the cherub was removed to protect it from damage and the marble basin and fountain, along with the stucco and concrete surround, fell into disrepair, with nothing remaining above the fluted base of the fountain. In the 1980s a community effort, led by Ashland Planning Director John Fregonese, raised funds to restore the fountain, in part through community “Spaghetti Feeds” at a local Italian restaurant. Local sculpture Jeffery Bernard was hired to carve a replica of the cherub from a block of marble purchased from the original Italian quarry, a new marble basin was purchased, and the entire concrete base was repaired and restored. Later the cherub was again duplicated, this time in more durable bronze, and the original marble cherub found a home at the Ashland Public Library.
But marble, and stucco and concrete, in Ashland’s wet-and-then-dry environment, is quickly damaged. The Butler-Perozzi Fountain again needs to be restored as it nears its 12th decade of overlooking the park. The Ashland Parks Foundation, which has set aside some funding toward that work, is considering its options on how to best proceed so that the generosity of two friends who visited the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco over a century ago may continue to grace the “Park Road” for decades to come.
Ashland historian George Kramer is founder of Kramer & Company, which provides historical preservation services. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.