by Susan Taylor Block, August 24, 2012
Today’s Star News carried a fine editorial on the need to preserve Kenan Memorial Fountain, the centerpiece of Fifth Avenue at Market Street. The fountain was created from Indiana limestone and designed by Carrere and Hastings of New York, the same architectural firm responsible for the New York Public Library; Whitehall, in Palm Beach; the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, and many other buildings of distinction.
In 1921, William Rand Kenan, Jr. gave the fountain and accompanying walls and benches to the city in memory of his parents, William Rand Kenan and Mary Hargrave Kenan. Kenan also, along with Thomas H. Wright, Sr., built the Carolina Apartments building. According to Walter E. Campbell, author of Across Fortune’s Tracks:A Biography of William Rand Kenan, the fountain “represents the close connection between one man’s economic interests, in the Carolina Apartments, and his love for the city at the center of his family’s history.”
In 1953, N. C. Highway Commission engineers decided to remove the fountain, declaring it a driving hazard. Debate had raged for more than a decade as increased automobile traffic seemed to shrink the intersection of the two boulevards. Historian, preservationist, and conservationist Louis T. Moore, a life-long friend of the Kenan family, worked hard to both keep the fountain and preserve the warmth of Mr. Kenan’s feelings for Wilmington. Suggestions to move the fountain to South Third Street, across from Greenfield Lake, or to the entrance to the Cape Fear River Memorial Bridge didn’t set well with some Wilmingtonians, but the local press continued to push hard to have it removed, one way or the other.
William Rand Kenan’s cousin, Owen Hill Kenan, M.D., noted that some of the trouble came from drunks and reckless drivers who collided with the fountain. Known for his wit, Dr. Kenan wrote to Mr. Moore, “(but) it is always the fountain’s fault.”
Louis T. Moore went on a personal crusade to save the fountain, writing scores of letters to gather support. He visited his friend and neighbor, architect Leslie N. Boney, too, and told him the problem. The architect, also a friend of the Kenan family, created the compromise. Boney hailed from Duplin County, the Kenans’ ancestral home, and his wife, Mary Lily Hussey, was named for family friend Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. Working in the basement office of his Italianate home at 120 South Fifth Street, a block and a half from the fountain, he devised a plan to improve traffic flow through reducing the size of the monument by cutting away the lower tier and erecting a high wall…. What is left is precious.