By Lisa M. Schmelz
Sometimes the best laid plans never materialize, allowing something even better to reveal itself. In this case, the best laid plans were tulip bulbs — 6,000 to be specific. A gift offered from a Lake Geneva estate owner, the bulbs were intended to beautify the city in scattered plantings, but the garden beds never came to fruition.
“Richard H. Driehaus was going to give us tulips,” recalls Grace Eckland, president of the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee. “We thought we were going to get the committee started with this gift, but we took a step back and began to re-evaluate our initial plan and started to formulate something more strategic. Really, Richard’s offer to give us those bulbs was the impetus for the formation of the committee and what would come next.”
Why not be purposeful with their mission statement of “surveying and evaluating properties for beautification?” Why not be deliberate with their goal of accenting what Mother Nature so graciously provided?
“We didn’t want the beautifying of Lake Geneva to be a hodgepodge,” explains Eckland. “We started to ask ‘When do you feel like you’ve come into Lake Geneva?’ ‘And what can you do at those points of entry to beautify them?’ We wanted to be strategic.”
So instead of planting 6,000 tulips here and there back in 2001, the committee hired a landscape design firm out of Madison. The result was a master plan that identified high-traffic and notable spaces throughout the community, which were ripe for enhanced beautification.
What is “enhanced beautification” in a region already boasting shimmering waters and rolling green hills?
It’s a deliberate welcome, an invitation to sit and do nothing, or watch someone else do something like play an instrument, in someplace peaceful and, yes, beautiful. Maybe it’s paved. Maybe it’s green. Maybe it blooms. Maybe it’s man-made.
And it’s been a deliberate strategy by the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee that has raised approximately $1.3 million of private money to fund projects throughout the city.
DRIEHAUS FAMILY PLAZA
By 2004, the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee’s plan included a fountain at the heart of downtown Lake Geneva. With another generous gift from Driehaus, founder of one of the country’s most successful investment firms and known here for his lakefront Georgian Revival-style estate, the committee transformed the space in front of the Riviera Ballroom into a true gathering place. Driehaus, also a noted art collector, had acquired a replica of Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain. Its centerpiece is the Angel of the Waters statue.
“He donated the fountain,” explains Eckland, “and it is a smaller replica of what is in Central Park.”
Inspired by the Gospel of John, and the story of an angel bestowing healing powers on the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, the neoclassical winged female figure atop the fountain holds a lily in her hand. Why? To celebrate the purifying of New York City’s water when the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842. Beneath her, four smaller figures symbolize temperance, purity, health and peace.
The committee’s crusade to invite visitors and residents to pause in spots like what is now known as Driehaus Family Plaza is intentional. Fountains like the replica Bethesda, now called the Driehaus Family Fountain, demand we take notice. They’re meant for us to be a part of something others appreciate, too. In the world in which we live, spaces like this are a lifeline many of us don’t even realize we need.
On a recent Saturday, the brick plaza was filled with locals and tourists, young and old. Two small toddlers ran laps around the fountain, their tiny fingers slicing through the arcs of water. Art critics typically don’t have diapers appearing above their waistline, but surely we must appreciate that the squeals of delight coming from these tots indicate strong approval. An offer of ice cream inside the Riviera Ballroom — a Mediterranean style structure built in 1932 made popular during the swing era drawing such performers as Louis Armstrong, and today a mixed-use meeting and retail space — is ignored by the tots multiple times.
THREE GRACES FOUNTAIN
At Flat Iron Park, a trio of millennials rest on a blanket beneath a maple tree whose buds are just starting to offer shade. An aging beagle, with a hot pink harness, naps between them.
“Can we just stay here all day?” asks one of the millennials to no one in particular. “It’s perfect here.”
No reply is given, and they remain. Watching over the trio are the Three Graces, a fountain at the southeast corner of the park. Restored by the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee and the local Jaycees in 2007, the bricks surrounding it pay homage to pets we have loved and lost.
BERTIL & ULLA BRUNK PERFORMANCE PAVILION
North of the Three Graces, is the Bertil & Ulla Brunk Performance Pavilion, completed in 2015 and financed 100 percent by privately donated funds. The Brunks, life-long Lake Geneva residents, donated $150,000 to the project, because, according to Eckland, they felt strongly about giving back to the city where they built their business and reared their family. And music, according to Eckland, was one of the Brunks’ passions.
A community-wide fundraising effort ensured the needed financing would be obtained for the pavilion which is used for live music, weddings and other events, weather permitting. From the platinum sponsors who gave $50,000 and crystal sponsors who donated $5,000 to anyone that purchased a signature brick for $100, the remaining $350,000 was raised. A truly amazing feat for the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee, but more importantly the citizens of this community.
The pavilion’s design by Ken Etten of McCormack & Etten Architects mimics the Riviera’s style with a tile roof and other architectural elements common to Lake Geneva.
Back at the west end of Library Park, where the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee oversaw major landscape designs and provided project-support for the Veterans Memorial, two middle age men walking their dogs in opposite directions stop to talk. One of the men is not from this neck of the woods, the other is.
“I drive here from Racine just to walk Scooby,” he says of his long-hair daschund. “It’s so beautiful here. You’re lucky you live around here.”
“Yes, we are,” says the other man. “We take it for granted, I guess. It really is beautiful.”
So Many Accomplishments in so Little Time
The Lake Geneva Beautification Committee was founded in 2000 as a committee of the City of Lake Geneva. By 2008, it had evolved into a non-profit. With more than 19 major beautification projects, including art and monument installations at key city entry points, to its credit, the committee receives support from matching grants, fund-raising events, donations, the City of Lake Geneva, the Lake Geneva Utility Commission and through the Signature Bricks program.
Signature Bricks can be purchased for $150, $300, $1,000 and $2,500, depending on the size. Signature Brick forms are available at City Hall, the Lake Geneva Utility Commission, in boxes at The Riviera and Brunk Pavilion, via email at [email protected] or online at www.lakegenevabeautification.com.
Driehaus Family Plaza Celebration
The public is invited to a formal dedication of the newly enhanced Driehaus Family Plaza on Sunday, July 2. As the event draws closer, look for details at www.lakegenevabeautification.com.
Born and raised in Chicago, Richard H. Driehaus owns one of the most successful investment management firms in the country. A highly-respected philanthropist, Driehaus is also passionate about historic preservation and design. The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust has contributed approximately $335,000 to the Lake Geneva Beautification Committee Inc. to date. In addition, Driehaus has provided his Lake Geneva estate as a venue for Lake Geneva Beautification Committee charitable events.
That the original Angel of the Waters statue and Bethesda fountain presides in Central Park likely has a special place in Driehaus’ heart. He fully restored his turn-of-the-century Lake Geneva estate that includes a beautiful landscape designed by the Olmsted brothers, whose father designed Central Park.