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Late planning director’s family launches fountain restoration fundraising campaign

The family of former Ashland Planning Director John Fregonese, who died in June, is launching a campaign to raise $500,000 for restoration of Lithia Park’s century-old Butler-Perozzi Fountain, which he helped restored in 1987, but which has since fallen into disrepair.

One of the crown jewels of the town, the fountain has for years been on the to-do list of the city Parks & Recreation Department and the Ashland Parks Foundation. But it’s one of many projects, and the foundation has raised only $13,000, which is “not enough to do anything,” says Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black.

A push to restore the fountain could come at an opportune time, since the city has consultants writing a Lithia Park master plan for the next century, says fundraising campaign leader Scott Fregonese of Portland, the son of John, who at age 66 was the victim of fast-moving cancer.

“The fountain restoration in the 1980s was a real signature thing for my dad and me, when I was growing up in Ashland,” said Scott. “It was more than just a Planning Department thing. It’s a part of Ashland just as Lithia Park is, a signature piece of the city that reminds us how special Ashland is and how it will be there for future generations.”

Scott, a principal of the urban planning firm his father founded, Fregonese & Associates in Portland, is joined by his mother, Janet Fregonese, in the fundraising project. John Fregonese was Ashland’s planning director from 1979 to 1992 and is remembered for his visionary work in revamping downtown’s streetscape.

Scott and his late father met with Black last year and toured the fountain.

“We talked about what we could do for it, as well as the future maintenance and upkeep,” Scott said. “We saw some of the bowl is cracked and the pump-work needs replacing.”

Scott and his mother will discuss the project during the comment period of the city Planning Commission’s Aug. 27 meeting.

Black said the fountain “is one of our top priorities for restoration.”

“We need to assess if the concrete is in good condition,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot bigger push to tackle the aesthetic part, if the marble isn’t in good shape. We may need to bring in an expert and that will be expensive. We have to get the right kind of stone. You can’t just go to the hardware and get it. We might have to go to Italy.”

The fountain was sculpted in Italy by A. Frilli for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Prominent Ashland businessmen Gwin Butler and Domingo Perozzi bought it for $3,000 and donated land to Lithia Park for it.

Fregonese in 1981 discovered it being overtaken by blackberry bushes, and led the effort to restore it, including buying marble from the original quarry in Italy and hiring Ashland sculptor Jeffrey Bernard to work on it. The original marble cherub, holding a water-spouting fish atop the fountain, was deemed too fragile to survive the elements and was put in the public library — to be replaced by a bronze copy. The restored fountain was dedicated in 1987.

The cost also depends on whether it’s a rehab, restoration or replacement, said Black. A rehab would retain its historic character with only slight modifications for current codes. A restoration takes it back to a certain point in time, which would be more true to the original form. A replacement, Black added, “can mean almost anything, but we’re not talking about replacing it.”

It’s an ambitious and costly project, but Black expressed optimism.

“With the help of the Fregonese family and their name in the community, I feel confident we’ll raise a good portion of the money,” he said. “In our review of the master plan, there will be a list of projects for prioritization and it will probably be at the top of the list. What they’re doing is giving us the opportunity to move quicker on it.”

Donations may be made by credit card or PayPal at https://frego.com/perozzi-fountain or to the Fregonese Memorial Fund at Rogue Credit Union or mailed to Rogue Credit Union, P.O. Box 4550, Medford, Ore. 97501.

A memorial celebration of John Fregonese’s life will be held at 4 p.m., Aug. 16, at the Portland Yacht Club, 1241 NE Marine Drive, Portland.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

The Ashland Parks Foundation has announced a campaign to restore the historic Butler-Perozzi Fountain in Lithia Park. Jamie Lusch / Ashland Daily Tidings
John Fregonese (photo from frego.com)