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A happy holiday for the once-lost Children’s Fountain and the family of its champion, Jane Byrne

Monument commissioned by former mayor gets a worthy and overdue makeover

The Children’s Fountain, outside the Chicago History Museum at Clark and North, was originally dedicated by former Mayor Jane Byrne in 1982.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The Children’s Fountain

It was something she loved.

And then it disappeared.

Former Mayor Jane Byrne’s brief but blustery term in office — from 1979 to 1983 — was ostensibly too brief to establish a long legacy for our first female leader.

Mayor Jane Byrne.
Sun-Times files

But during her short tenure, Byrne commissioned two amazing monuments ... including one that disappeared for years.

One was a memorial dedicated to Vietnam War veterans still struggling with the aftermath of an unpopular war; the other, a whimsical fountain dedicated to children who represented the future of the city.

“My mother loved that fountain,” said her only child, Chicago attorney Kathy Byrne, who recalled her mom chose to feature the fountain on the cover of the mayor’s memoir, “My Chicago.”

The plaque on the Children’s Fountain.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

As her brief, but former mayoral press secretary, it seemed to me both memorials represented the yin and yang of Byrne’s administration: conflict and resolution, the dual sides of Byrne’s feisty personality.

And unlike other statues erected by the city’s long line of male mayors, Mayor Byrne did not place her children’s fountain in the whimsy of a park, where male statuary held sway.

Instead, in October 1982, before her tenure in office ended, the fountain was ironically placed amid the motorist mayhem on Wacker Drive.

Then it became a piece of mayoral folklore.

Sometime during the reign of her nemesis, Mayor Richard M. Daley — whose father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, had been Byrne’s mentor — the statue developed a leak, was disassembled and placed in storage ... instead of getting immediate repair.

After Wacker Drive was reconstructed, the fountain remained a disappearing act until the press inquired.

“It had turned into a hot potato,” Kathy Byrne said. But after a media outcry, the fountain was found and reinstalled in 2005 near North Avenue and Clark Street near the Chicago History Museum.

“But it looked shabby and neglected with pieces broken off due to lack of maintenance,” she said.

So here’s the happy ending.

Byrne, who lives two blocks from where her mother’s fountain is located, claimed when scaffolding went up once again around the fountain she “wondered whether it was going to disappear again,” she said.

“Then, in October, some of my neighbors told me the scaffolding was down and the fountain looked beautiful,” she said. It now was at the gateway to the Chicago History Museum’s new outdoor history trail, “where children can learn from the past in order to give to the future,” she said.

So when Mayor Byrne’s only grandson, Willy, returns home from law school for the holidays, he will pass by the Jane Byrne Interchange (thanks to ex-Gov. Pat Quinn); and head with his mother to view the Christmas scene at his grandmother’s namesake plaza at the Water Tower (thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.)

And on Christmas Eve, Willy and his mother will visit Mayor Byrne’s beloved Children’s Fountain.

“If it starts to snow, we’ll consider it proof my mom approves,” mused Kathy, whose mother was elected in the aftermath of a major snowstorm strangling the city.

And Willy’s grandmother “Mamie,” who passed away in 2014, will no doubt be very pleased.

A music note ...

A trip down memory lane: Although she’s too young to be legendary, Chicago auction maven Leslie Hindman, who doesn’t mind telling anyone she just celebrated her 68th birthday — is the reason this columnist ran into my journalistic past.

• Upshot: Tickling the ivories at Hindman’s boffo birthday bash at Palm Beach’s Club-Colette recently was musician Wayne Hosford, who once upon a time played piano at Chicago’s legendary Gold Star Sardine Bar, a once famous jazz showcase that abruptly and mysteriously closed in 1997.

• Backshot: “The shows were packed every night,” said Hosford, who recalled the time he accompanied legendary singer Julie Wilson at the Sardine Bar for a two-week stint in 1992.

• Bigshots: Hosford, whose musician’s resume is as voluminous as the stellar bar’s famous clientele, claims Richard M. Daley was a patron; cabaret legend Bobby Short would send congratulatory telegrams; and the late legendary Sun-Times celeb columnist Irv Kupcinet also attended concerts.

“Julie and I even worked Kup into the lyrics of ‘The Lady is a Tramp,’ he recalled.

“Then we’d all rush over to The Drake Hotel for late supper each night.

“Loved it. Love Chicago! I’ve entertained all over the world, but the Sardine Bar was something else. Extraordinary,” added Hosford, who has opened for singer Michael Buble and comedy legend Jay Leno at private and corporate events.

It was wonderful to relive moments of the American Songbook via Hosford’s music — as well as his trip down my own memory lane.

Oh yes — a three-by-four-foot poster of my mug once hung in the Sardine Bar.

It now lives in my basement.

Hmmm. So it goes.

Sneedlings…

All in the family: Veteran newspaperman Alan P. Henry, whose 47-year journalistic career includes work at the Sun-Times, the Boston Globe and Pioneer Press (among others), has personally published his memoir, “My Life in Print.” His father, John C. Henry, was once president of the White House Correspondents Association during the early World War II years of the Roosevelt Administration. … Saturday birthdays: Billie Eilish, 20; Brad Pitt, 58, and Christina Aguilera, 41; … Sunday birthdays: Jake Gyllenhaal, 41, and Alyssa Milano, 49.