looking back

‘Looking Back’: Rideout Fountain

By Kinen Carvala

An exuberant fountain, now restored to its original glory, entices visitors to the center of the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park. 

It was paid for with a $10,000 bequest from the will of Corinna Rideout, widow of Norman Abbott Rideout (1859-1896), to beautify Golden Gate Park, according to the Marysville Evening Democrat (March 9, 1896). Norman Abbott Rideout is not to be confused with his father, Norman Dunning Rideout (1832-1907). Because both men died several years before Corinna’s bequest of funds for the fountain, newspaper reports in the 1920s would confuse or omit middle initials when referencing the male Rideouts. 

The Rideout Fountain is the centerpiece of the Music Councourse in Golden Gate Park. Dedicated in 1924, the fountain features a saber-tooth tiger fighting with a snake that is wrapped around its body. Photos by Michael Durand.

The Rideout family once owned the six Rideout Banks, based in Marysville, California, which were sold to A. P. Giannini’s Bank of Italy, the future Bank of America, according to The Morning Union (Aug. 18, 1921).

The southwest side of the fountain on the outer edge of the water basin, facing the bandstand, has the inscription:

Gift of Corinne Rideout, AD MCMXXIV

MCMXXIV is the dedication year 1924 written in Roman numerals.

A National Register of Historic Places 2005 Landmark Designation Report for the Golden Gate Park Music Concourse’s $12 million renovation project – which included the Rideout and other Concourse fountains – concluded that:

“No documentation has been found to explain why these elements (that is, the fountain) were placed where they were, but in most cases their placement seems carefully considered …. These locations were the logical place for them.”

According to that report, the Rideout Fountain is about 50 feet in diameter and made of cast stone. The fountain is 10 feet tall, according to the 1989 book San Francisco Civic Art Collection. Architect Herbert A. Schmidt designed the rim, while M. Earl Cummings sculpted the mountain lion and snake sculpture in the middle.

“Earl Cummings (1876-1936) was a member of San Francisco’s Park Commission for 32 years, and under the terms of the city charter thus created many works of art in Golden Gate Park – more, in fact, than did any other artist,” according to the 2005 report.

Cummings has nearly a dozen of his works in the park, according to John Freeman in the April-June 2020 issue of the Outside Lands magazine from the Western Neighborhoods Project. Cummings grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and carved wooden figures to decorate the local Mormon Temple before he moved to San Francisco. He studied under Douglas Tilden, who also made monuments installed in Golden Gate Park, such as the Junipero Serra and the Baseball Player monuments. 

In what looks like a battle to the death, the sculptor M. Earl Cummings depicted a struggle between a saber-tooth tiger and a snake that has wrapped itself around the lion’s body.

Then-District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar turned on the Rideout Fountain after its renovation in 2010. The renovated sculpture included the sculptor Manuel Palos fixing the serpent’s head, according to Mar’s September 2010 newsletter. The serpent’s head had been missing for at least 80 years, according to Samantha Bell writing for San Francisco Appeal in 2010. Joseph Chow and Associates on their website wrote, before the restoration, the fountain had not worked since 2004 due to vandalism and theft of fountain components.

Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse is a popular gathering place. Pictured above are friends from Lodi, California: (Left to right) Tristan Auerbach, Delila Auerbach holding Mia Lewis, Evangelin Hensel, Kadenie Auerbach, Beatrice Hensel, Elias Hensel and Seamu Auerbach. 

The renovation was part of the $12 million allotted for the Rideout Fountain and three other fountains in the Music Concourse, with most of this money coming from California Proposition 40 in 2002, as reported by the San Francisco Examiner. SF Appeal wrote that an extra $100,000 was requested for the restoration, because of additional drainage work to design around a century-old water line. A new water system was installed to send water to the fountain and then use that water for irrigation instead of immediately sending the water to the sewer.

The monument is located in the middle of the Music Concourse, between the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. 

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