Rising high above the south bank of the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville stands the iconic Friendship Fountain. This massive, majestic fountain has awed visitors and locals alike since its completion for the city’s bicentennial celebrations in 1965. Here is the story behind this record-breaking fountain sculpture and why it has become a symbol of Jacksonville.
Friendship Fountain was designed by Jacksonville architect Taylor Hardwick and built at a cost of $2.5 million using funds raised by the Jacksonville Art Museum. When completed in 1965, the massive concrete and stainless steel fountain stood 121 feet tall and was equipped with a glow system that illuminated it at night. At that time, it was certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest and largest fountain.
The elaborate fountain consists of a raised center column and three surrounding concave bowls catching the water spray. At the top, 126 jets shoot plumes of water up to 150 feet in the air – as high as a 15-story building. More than 50,000 gallons of recirculated water flow through the fountain each minute when it is fully operational, pouring down into the outer basins with a thunderous roar.
Over 11,000 lights outline Friendship Fountain’s columns, bowls, and streams, creating a rainbow-hued glow during regular nightly shows. The fountain alternates between white, magenta, yellow, lavender, aqua, orange and blue as it cycles through its computerized color choreography.
Friendship Fountain quickly became a symbol of Jacksonville upon its unveiling. The name references the city’s history as a place where people from diverse cultures connected and collaborated. Water as a life source has been integral to Jacksonville since its founding along the St. Johns River. The fountain’s water flows as a tribute to the importance of intercultural friendship and river transportation in the city’s growth.
In addition to delighting visitors, Friendship Fountain provides welcome respite on hot days. Its surrounding plaza and dancing waters anchor the popular Riverfront Plaza along the Southbank Riverwalk. Locals and tourists picnic on the lawn, touch the fountain’s waters and take photos of unforgettable sunset views with the illuminated fountain as a backdrop.
Friendship Fountain underwent extensive renovations and repairs beginning in 2008. It reopened on a limited schedule in 2011, running only on weekends and holidays to reduce maintenance demands and costs. By 2019, the aging plumbing and electrical systems needed major repairs. The fountain remained closed while the city worked to fundraise the estimated $1.8 million renovation budget.
After securing funding contributions from local companies and donors, restoration work on Friendship Fountain finally began in early 2022. The renovated fountain reopened on September 30, 2022 with restored lighting, updated technology and improved water circulation. It now operates daily to once again showcase its majesty alongside the St. Johns River. More than 50 years after its record-breaking debut, Friendship Fountain still awes with its breathtaking spectacle.