SALEM — Nathaniel Hawthorne, were he alive today, could breathe a sigh of relief.
The Salem Redevelopment Authority has no plans to take down the fountain on the Essex Street pedestrian mall that was erected about 40 years ago at the site of the town pump Hawthorne immortalized in his short story, “A Rill From the Town Pump.”
To the contrary, the SRA last night endorsed the conceptual design of an improvement plan for a section of the well-worn mall, which not only retains but restores the famous Salem Town Pump Fountain in Townhouse Square.
The possibility of razing the old fountain, located along Washington Street across from the “Bewitched” statue, had come up at several public meetings.
What little controversy there was last night surrounded plans to restore the fountain by making changes to it. Among the alterations planned are removal of both the concrete base and the pool, or stone-lined basin, that fills with bubbles when pranksters dump in soap.
Tim Love, a principal with Utile, a Boston landscape architecture firm hired by the city, outlined plans to improve the lighting and restore the bronze relief on a fountain sculpture that has an inscription and likeness of Hawthorne. These changes and others, including fixing two public drinking fountains, will draw more attention to the fountain, according to Love.
“We’re going to create a much better context for the fountain,” he said, “which will make it much better loved.”
Andrew Carr, a resident of the McIntire Historic District, said he was concerned that no mention had been made of the mall’s original landscape architect, the late John F. Collins, who won awards for his mall design.
Carr contended that the water basin the city wants to remove creates “the sense of a spring” at a spot where there once was a town spring.
“It would be nice to see the fountain restored to the original design,” he said.
A representative from Landworks Studios, a Boston landscape architecture firm working with Utile, said they were aware of Collins’ original work. In fact, a principal of Landworks had worked for Collins on the Salem project, the representative said.
The Landworks official said that even old, award-winning designs can be improved.
Several members of the SRA and audience said they are pleased that the fountain is being retained and liked the overall changes suggested by the consultants, which include removing landscape beds and planters, taking down unhealthy trees, relocating a kiosk, resetting some cobblestones, and replacing others with brick.
Early in the fall, the city completed the first phase of mall improvements, which included the removal of landscape beds and cobblestones and setting out chairs and tables in several places.
City officials said they hope to open up the mall to make it better for pedestrians and visitors, and also safer when the occasional commercial vehicles or delivery trucks drive down it.
They plan to redo the mall in phases, making small changes rather than a complete reconstruction. Love said they are following a “Fenway Park model,” where changes were made one at a time to the fabled ballpark, like Green Monster seats, which retained the past while improving the present.
“The idea is to tweak but don’t throw out,” Love said.
A controversial subject — opening the mall to traffic — has been discussed at public meetings, but has not been formally proposed and was not part of last night’s discussion.
The conceptual design approved last night now goes to the city’s Design Review Board before coming back to the SRA.
If all goes according to schedule, work on this next phase could be done next spring.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.