Thursday, June 13, 2024

Star Park’s Rainbow Fountain of 1888

The year was 1888. The Boathouse was a year old, Tent City was still a concept being tossed around, and the Hotel Del was brand new. A block away in Star Park, surrounded by dirt buggy trails and the odd manzanita bush, there was, of all things, a rainbow fountain.

August 1888, and a new “attraction” beckoned to Coronado visitors. It was a rainbow fountain in a seriously underdeveloped area of town known as Star Park. Photo courtesy Coronado Public Library.

When you stood on the north side, you looked at the Del through enormous arcs of misting rainbows. Thanks to a long-forgotten news clipping of the time, the once magical Coronado Rainbow Fountain can be remembered, and imagined in amazingly fine detail.

At an elevation of 25 feet, a cymbal-shaped fountain sprayed out into a 30-foot basin surrounded by a bed of calla lilies.

Green lawns with red floral borders and blue and pink flowers surrounded the basin to create a magical scene that today we only can see in black & white photos. On top of the fountain was a glass globe filled with quicksilver that reflected shining drops over and over again, magnified a thousand-fold.

On August 7th the Rainbow Fountain was unveiled to a private party by E.S. Babcock, Jr. It was designed by M.P. Madden, Superintendent of the Coronado Water Works.

Water flowed through a 2 1/2-inch pipe up 22 feet, where a 2-inch cylinder fed water into a plate-like outlet, creating the circular looking fountain. Sixteen spray heads sent out a fine spray of water to help create the colorful rainbows.

Thanks to Ken Bitar and his drone camera, we can see what Star Park looks like today. Here, Ken has captured a Memorial Day service at Star Park.

How brilliantly imaginative our Coronado founding fathers were in the 1880s. They did an incredible job of laying out our streets from A to K (now Alameda) and 1st to 10th, with some main streets and diagonals as well. And pastimes? Tennis, polo, hunting, fishing, swimming and diving platforms, salt water plunges, costume parties, and lavish dinner gatherings nightly.

This was a time of ferryboats, trolleys and trains. There were no aero planes, no one-way streets or traffic lights, and South Coronado Island moved at a wonderfully unhurried pace. Despite the advances in transportation, horse-drawn buggies continued to greet guests at the Ferry Terminal and deliver them to this grand new hotel everyone was talking about.

There was more dirt than construction back then, and footpaths were worn diagonally across blocks of wild oats where children walked. Jackrabbits outnumbered people on Coronado in those early years.

The late Bruce Muirhead once told me he could hear his mother yelling for him from Tenth and Orange – calling him to dinner. Not so strange, you say? Bruce could hear her on the other side of town, at the old Ferry Terminal, at 1st and Orange. That memory alone speaks of a lack of density that, likewise, we can hardly imagine today.

Star Park, Flora and Loma were all dirt roads until 1905. The Rainbow Fountain didn’t last much longer.

In yet another amazing look at the “now” in then and now, Mary Torrado’s aerial image shows Star Park looking south towards the Hotel Del.

The carriage in the August 1888 photograph is on Flora. Imagine that as you stand at Star Park today. No memorial flags, no bronze cannon, no massive shade trees, no Wizard of Oz House … just the fountain, the basin, the calla lilies and enchanting rainbows.

Anyone who has ever attended Memorial Day Services in Star Park, played volleyball there or participated in one of many impromptu concerts on the front porch of Pike and Jane Meade’s Wizard of Oz House, will no doubt pause and shake their heads at this photo. I know I did.

Star Park continues to evolve and play a major, sentimental role in Coronado’s society. The rainbow fountain, however, is just a memory.

 – Joe Ditler

Note: This story is dedicated to Candice Hooper, who recently retired from the Coronado Public Library. She was an invaluable presence there for decades, in charge of exhibits and archives. She was always on the lookout for lost and forgotten history of Coronado.

On July Fourth, 1978, an impromptu gathering took place in Star Park after the parade. Pike and Jane Meade had been hosting their son, Joey Harris, and his various local bands on the front porch of their home on Star Park – the Wizard of Oz House – for several years. On this year, Joey was playing with the legendary John Stewart (formerly of the Kingston Trio and a major contributor to the American folk music scene). They performed to the largest crowd of youth ever gathered at Star Park. And, not a cell phone in sight. Photos by Joe Ditler.
July 4, 1978. Photo by Joe Ditler.



Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.

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