04 April 2009

Happy Fountain Square Day!

Sorry folks, but Queen City Survey reminds us that it's Fountain Square day, and to honor her history, I'm going to bore you with some fond memories of the square.

After sophomore year of high school (1981), I spent my entire summer on Fountain Square clowning around to attract customers for Big Red Q Quick-Print Centers. It was so much fun that it's still hard to believe I got paid for that.

Chris Trapp ran a little company specializing in "unusual advertising." They mostly hired attractive females to walk or roller skate a route through the streets and skywalks of the CBD handing out coupons while wearing sandwich boards. Chris herself wore the Q suit, but then another gig came in that she couldn't resist. She decided my ugly mug wouldn't be a liability under the costume, so I got the job.

IBM had a storefront on the northwest corner of the square (behind Via Vita's current location) showcasing their brand-new line of personal computers. They launched a nationwide ad campaign around a Charlie Chaplin theme, and her new role was to skate around in bowler hat and cane dressed as Chaplin to promote the new technology.

The Apple store at 6th and Sycamore was selling the hell out of the Apple II, and Radio Shack was doing fairly well with the TRS-80. IBM was late to the party, and aimed to dominate the market with its open PC platform. The ill-fated Lisa (predecessor to the MacIntosh) was still 2 years away.

What I remember most is how packed the square was at lunchtime. It really didn't matter if CRC had an event that day, everybody just felt the need to congregate there. Hot dog vendors worked both 5th street corners, Graeters had a cart in the middle, several people were hustling chess games, and every Wednesday at noon a bible thumper shouted out "I've got good news today people," preached for 30 minutes and left. Polka, jazz, bluegrass and swing bands played every few days, the friends of the Library held their annual book sale under tents for a week, and somebody would toss some dish soap into the fountain every few weeks to make it overflow with suds. That place absolutely rocked.

The only time I've felt that vibe since, was after the Reds won the 1990 World Series. My wife (we first met on Fountain Square) worked the phone for several hours to get us tickets to game 1 at Riverfront. After watching them sweep the A's in Oakland on TV, my brother-in-law said, out of the blue, "Let's go to Fountain Square." Apparently half the city had the same idea, because the spontaneous party that erupted was fantastic.

I'm not particularly fond of the new layout of the square. It seems too cut up, too flat, fragmented. I'm never sure whether this is an objective opinion, or just my reminiscience of the old open slanted slab. But I am VERY heartened that the old magic seems to be coming back, and the square continues to vibrate with families and business people, and all other walks of life mingling and enjoying our great city.

Long live Fountain Square!

1 comment:

CityKin said...

I walked by the fountain twice yesterday. First time it was dry and the atmosphere was blah. Later in the evening when walking home from the Cyclones' last game, the fountain was on, and people were attracted to it. The whole atmosphere had changed in a few hours.

I continue to be skeptical of some of the design elements of the square, but I am more and more liking the new fountain location, and it does seem to almost always have a crowd for some reason.

Not just fountain square, but all of downtown had a lot of activity 30 years ago. There were problems too, but there were a lot more stores and even a movie theater or two.