James Washington Jr and the “The Fountain of Triumph.
James Washington Jr and the “The Fountain of Triumph." COURTESY OF THE JAMES & JANIE WASHINGTON FOUNDATION

The corner of 23rd and Union has seen lots of changes over the past few years, and since the MidTown block, which includes Earl’s Barber Shop and the post office, sold in May, more changes are on their way. But one iconic Central District piece of art will remain where it is at the redeveloped MidTown Center—after the twenty-year old sculpture gets a restoration.

Central District artist James Washington Jr. intended for his piece, a fountain featuring salmon swimming upstream, to be a metaphor for the struggle of African Americans:

Life is the truest cycle that ever will be. A symbol of this is the salmon’s return from the sea. As the salmon starts back on its physical trend to complete the cycle where life began, so it is with blacks of the racial trend on the American scene who have struggled like the salmon to reach his or her pinnacle of life and the free spirit again.

This is the goal of the African-American women and men: To pass on to their offspring the energy in their body and recycle their physical remains in Mother Earth to be used again.

“The Fountain of Triumph” stood as a symbol for the black community in a neighborhood that experienced a dramatic decline in their rates of homeownership and population since the piece was completed in the late 1990s.

The sculpture will be moved down the street to Washington’s old studio on 26th Ave (now a historical landmark managed by the James & Janie Washington Foundation) to get restored by Pratt Fine Arts. Once the construction of the new buildings is completed, “The Fountain of Triumph” will return to a block that will almost completely unrecognizable.

Last May, developer Lake Union Partners, who purchased the MidTown block for $23.25 million, sold 20 percent of it to land-conservation non-profit organization Forterra and Africatown, a community group in the CD. There will be retail space, a community center, a plaza, and even affordable housing.

Lake Union Partners will build up to 425 apartments, with 125 of them being affordable units, while Forterra and Africatown plan to partner with Capitol Hill Housing to create up to “135 apartment homes affordable to individuals with income as low as $26,880 or 40 percent AMI.”

Luckily, all the parties involved in the redevelopment were able to recognize the value that Washington's fountain has for the local community, and included the piece in their plans.

“We’re thrilled it will be returning it to its former glory," Washington Foundation board president Reverend LaVerne Hall told Capitol Hill Blog.