The Alexander Berger Memorial Fountain

fountain, now
fountain, past
The Alexander Berger Memorial Fountain.

Alexander Berger, a nearly-permanent Tucson visitor from Maryton, Virginia, was an important Tucson benefactor from 1910 until his death in 1940.

His nephew, Alex, son of Alexander's brother, Harry, had been a University of Arizona student and, like other UA graduates went off to win World War I. Alex and twelve other UA grads lost their lives in that war.

In their memory, Alexander Berger donated $5,000 to the university in 1919 for the construction of a Memorial Fountain on campus.

Alexander and his brother, Harry, who resided in Tucson from 1915 to 1944, were successful merchants in the grain and milling business in the Midwest.

Alexander was a cellist and both he and his brother were members of the Tucson Saturday Morning Music Club. In 1925, Alexander donated $100,000 to the music society to build the Temple of Music and Art in downtown Tucson. It was dedicated in the memory of Alexander's wife, Mary Sholes Berger. After the original donation, which by today’s standards probably would total half a million dollars, more money was needed to finish the building and to establish a scholarship fund. Alexander came up with another $50,000 through an unnamed party, which party's name was thought to be Alexander Berger. Berger had expressed some chagrin over the revelation that he had been the donor of the original $100,000. He had asked the music club to keep his donation a secret.

Alexander's daughter was Mrs. William Jennings Bryan Jr., and resided in Tucson for a number of years with her husband.

Upon completion of the fountain, it was dedicated by General John J. Pershing, another Tucson visitor from time to time. The ceremonies were held on the steps and porch of Old Main, overlooking the fountain, on January 31, 1920. The fountain was designed by Jack Lyman and Roy Place and the contractor was Fred E. Walsh.

Total cost was $5,500 with the university making up the difference between that and Berger's donation - out of unspent appropriated funds for capital outlay. For many years the fountain was the center of hi-jinks activity by UA students.

Young scholars would gather there (as they still do) to sit in the sun and wet their feet in the fountain's waters, and of course to splash one another. Freshmen were not allowed to sit by the fountain and play, although many of them found themselves in it after dunkings by hazing upper classmen. Marital engagements were announced there. Cars, one containing the engaged couple, would circle the drive surrounding Old Main and the fountain and the couple would find itself unceremoniously dumped into the fountain's matrimonial waters.

On November 17, 1976, John B. Trimble, UA's Director of Physical Resources (the title was an updating and sophistication for former directors who were known as Superintendents of Buildings and Grounds), got himself into hot water over the fountain, pun intended. He announced that the memorial fountain would be drained of water and would no longer be used because maintenance costs ran from $850 to $1,000 per year. The problem was a shortage of funds with an anticipated $500,000 deficit in the UA' s utility bills for that fiscal year.

Gen. John J. Pershing dedicates memorial.
Gen. John J. Pershing dedicates memorial.

Trimble also complained that the fountain was costly in other areas. "A lot of dogs swim in it," he said, "and when that happens the hair of the dogs clogs the fountain's filter and the fountain has to be drained and the filter cleaned." He also cited the "inevitable student prank of putting soap suds in the fountain and every time that occurs, the university has to drain the 9,800 gallons of water and refill the fountain."

Trimble said he felt "very bad" that he had to make the decision to close down Memorial Fountain. "It is a nice thing to have," he said. "Kids sit there and study by it. It's part of the culture of this university."

Trimble recalled that the fountain fell into disuse some time after World War II. In 1959, university officials had new pumps installed, lights, and turned the water back on. After lamenting the loss of the fountain's "culture" Trimble suggested that if students or a private group raised the money to pay for the fountain's maintenance, it would flow again. "I'm kind of prepared to catch heck about this, but we've got to live within the almighty dollar," Trimble said.

But he wasn't prepared to catch the "heck" that came his way.

Two days after his announcement, Trimble and other university officials were deluged by protests from students, old grads, and townspeople. The Arizona Daily Star reported that "sentiment and tradition· scored a resounding victory over the economy." The fountain was reactivated.

Trimble said that he would try to find other ways to save money on utility bills. One may wonder if he ever considered turning off the lights for night football games in the stadium.

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