Buckingham Fountain is a Chicago landmark in the center of Grant Park. Dedicated in 1927, it is one of the largest fountains in the world. Built in a rococo wedding cake style and inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles, it is meant to allegorically represent Lake Michigan. It operates from April to October, with regular water shows and evening color-light shows. During the winter, the fountain is decorated with festival lights.
The fountain is considered Chicago's front door, since it resides in Grant Park, the city's front yard near the intersection of Columbus Drive and Congress Parkway. The fountain itself represents Lake Michigan, with four sets of sea horses (two per set) symbolizing the four states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana—that border the lake. The fountain was designed by beaux arts architect Edward H. Bennett. The statues were created by the French sculptor Marcel F. Loyau. The design of the fountain was inspired by the Bassin de Latone and modeled after Latona Fountain at Versailles.
The fountain was donated to the city by Kate Buckingham in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham, and was constructed at a cost of $750,000. The fountain's official name is the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain. Kate Buckingham also established the Buckingham Fountain Endowment Fund with an initial investment of $300,000 to pay for maintenance. Buckingham Fountain was dedicated on August 26, 1927.
In August 2016, in a partnership with the City of Chicago, the Chicago Parks District and Everywhere Wireless, the Buckingham Fountain viewing area joined many Chicago beaches and the Museum Campus in providing free Wi-Fi to visitors.
Many tourists and Chicagoans visit the fountain each year. The fountain operates daily 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. from mid-April through mid-October. Water shows occur every hour on-the-hour and last 20 minutes. During shows, the center jet shoots up vertically to 150 feet (46 m), and after dusk shows are choreographed with lights and music. The last show begins at 10:00 p.m. nightly.
The fountain is constructed of Georgia pink marble and contains 1,500,000 U.S. gallons (5,700,000 l) of water. During a display, more than 14,000 U.S. gallons per minute (0.88 m3/s) are pushed through its 193 jets. The bottom pool of the fountain is 280 ft (85 m) in diameter, the lower basin is 103 ft (31 m), the middle basin is 60 ft (18 m) and the upper basin is 24 ft (7.3 m). The lip of the upper basin is 25 ft (7.6 m) above the water in the lower basin.
The fountain's pumps are controlled by a Honeywell computer which was previously located in Atlanta, Georgia until the 1994 renovation when it was moved to the pump house of the fountain. The fountain's security system is monitored from Arlington Heights (a Chicago suburb).
In 1994, the fountain received a $2.8 million restoration to its three smallest basins which developed leaks due to Chicago's harsh winters.
The latest renovation project on Buckingham Fountain began in September 2008. This three-phase project will modernize aging internal systems in the fountain and restore deteriorated features. Funding is a combination from the Buckingham endowment, city and park district funds and a grant from the Lollapalooza music festival which is held annually near the fountain.
Phase I was dedicated April 3, 2009. This phase included permeable pavers to surround the fountain. This replaced the crushed stone that was used since the fountain was constructed. The pavers make a safer and smoother surface and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Phase II began in the winter of 2009. This phase included the demolition of the fountain table, installation of extensive underdrainage system, new landscaping, site lighting, signs, site furnishings, sewer system, selective demolition within or adjacent to the fountain's outer basin, repairs of some existing cast-in-place concrete elements and installation of new cast-in-place elements. Work was not completed due to lack of funds and the Chicago Park District has not announced when it expects to finish this phase.
Phase III updates have not been scheduled until Phase II projects are completed. This phase will include the restoration of Buckingham Fountain and fountain table, the construction of a new equipment room with selective demolition, structural construction and repair, masonry restoration and repair, mechanical and electrical work, bronze restoration and repair and installation of site improvements and amenities.
- Buckingham Fountain is often mistaken for the eastern terminus of U.S. Route 66, but in fact it is not; the original eastern terminus was at the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. In a later alignment, the terminus was moved east two blocks to the intersection of Jackson Drive and Lake Shore Drive after the latter was designated as U.S. Route 41. It remained there until the eastern terminus of Interstate 55 was completed at Lake Shore Drive, and then that also became the eastern terminus of Route 66 until I-55 completely replaced the route in Illinois and Route 66 was decommissioned. Nevertheless, many people still associate Buckingham Fountain with the start of Route 66, even though it hadn't been built yet when the route opened on November 11, 1926—whereas the Fountain of the Great Lakes in the South Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago, which has been at that intersection since 1913, actually preceded Route 66 by 13 years and Buckingham Fountain by 14 years.
- Buckingham Fountain was featured in the title sequence of Married... with Children.
- The Fountain was the starting point for the television show The Amazing Race 6 in 2004.
- The fountain can also be seen for a handful of seconds about nine minutes into National Lampoon's Vacation as the Griswolds are pulling out of Chicago.
- Buckingham Fountain is the starting point for the Cruise Mode in Microsoft's Midtown Madness.