Grand Haven Musical Fountain celebrates 60th anniversary

Dave Evanoski is one of hundreds of thousands of people who for six decades have been captivated by the Grand Haven Musical Fountain.

Evanoski was a middle schooler when he and his family first enjoyed the fountain’s synchronized water, lights and music in 1985 while the music of Led Zeppelin blared through the speakers. 

“We had moved from Cleveland, and I vowed that when I graduated from high school, I would go back,” says Evanoski, who now owns the Grand Haven Beach Co. “But that summer I discovered Holland beach and Grand Haven. I started loving it. I had never before seen anything like the fountain. It was so huge, so cool.”

The Grand Haven Musical Fountain was constructed in 1962 and was the world largest musical fountain of its kind until The Fountains of Bellagio opened at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas.

Evanoski also discovered Grand Haven has a serene vibe his hometown didn’t.

“I come from the streets, from being bullied, from a rough neighborhood, and I
went from there to this beautiful, peaceful place I never imagined in my life, so it
was really cool,” Evanoski says. “I’ll never forget it.”

Anniversary stories

This year marks the fountain’s 60th anniversary. The milestone will include a new set of water features debuting Aug. 27. Produced in collaboration with Grand Valley State University’s School of Engineering and Computing, the 9 p.m. show is titled “I am the Fountain.” Stories reflecting each of the fountain’s six decades will unfold. Earlier, at 6 p.m., ballet dancers, amid machine-generated fog and snow, will perform as characters from the “Frozen” animated movie, including, yes, the snowman. The fountains will not be used for the dance.

Grand Haven's Musical Fountain is the brainchild of Dr. William

Evanoski has kept the anniversary celebration going as well. Starting last year, he sold $7,000 worth of T-shirts with the fountain’s logo on it. This year, a new design reflecting the 60th anniversary is for sale, with the goal of donating $4,000 for the fountain’s preservation and upgrades.

“I wanted a design for people who knew the fountain, that would speak to them,” Evanoski says. “On the outer border that’s on the back of the T-shirt, it has the words ‘Good evening and welcome to the Grand Haven Musical Fountain. The exhilarating display of water, color, and music has been pleasing
Grand Haven visitors for over 60 years.’ It’s the same thing the fountain guys say every night.”

World-class attraction

The fountain was constructed in 1962 and was the world largest musical fountain of its kind until The Fountains of Bellagio opened at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. The Grand Haven fountain’s first show was May 30, 1963.

The fountain is the brainchild of Dr. William “Bill” Creason, a former Grand Haven mayor. The idea germinated when Creason was serving in the Navy in the early 1950s and he went to a Berlin nightclub that had a small fountain and an organ along a 12-foot stage. When Creason returned home, he wanted something similar for Grand Haven, only larger and more dramatic. So, instead of a 12-foot fountain, Grand Haven’s was 200 feet long.

Engineer William Morris Booth designed the Grand Haven Musical Fountain. Volunteers built the fountain for an estimated $50,000.

Engineer William Morris Booth was its designer. Volunteers built the fountain for an estimated $50,000. Ron Hartsema (1932-2021) was one of the charter committee members who created, produced and recorded more than 200 original fountain programs.

As always, the shows take place atop Dewey Hill at sunset from May through September and are usually viewed from the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium, though people can watch the spectacle from the Grand Haven boardwalk just as easily. The audio is broadcast on 88.7 FM for those who opt to experience the musical fountain from their cars.

Music, technology stays current

Efforts are made to select contemporary music reflecting various genres of pop, jazz, classical, and country as well as soundtracks from hit movies such as “Frozen” and “The Greatest Showman.” The fountain, which is owned by the city of Grand Haven, draws an annual average of 100,000 people, according to Andy Cawthon, vice chair of the Grand Haven Musical Fountain Committee.

“We went from punch-paper tape and landing lights from Muskegon Airport with water pushed by pumps from the Grand Haven water filtration plants,” says Cawthon.

“The controls since then have been upgraded. We now have LED lighting instead of landing lights, so the response time of the lighting is a matter of a fraction of seconds. The stadium quality of the sound system is all working together into a show consisting of five or six songs.”

Fun fountain facts

Cawthon cites some behind-the-scenes facts the audience likely doesn’t know:

• The fountain’s speakers are mono, not in stereo, so the entire crowd, which is about half-a-mile away from the fountain, can hear all of the audio. “Otherwise some of the crowd would only hear the bass or tenor if it were stereo,” Cawthon says.

• The fountain is a resource for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. “We give tours for middle and junior high STEM classes because of all that’s happening at the fountain,” Cawthon says. “Some kids who are exposed to robotics ask, ‘How can I make a living?’ Come over to the fountain and find out.”

• A producer may need 50 to 100 hours to choreograph a new song. The length of a song is taken into consideration. “It can’t be 10 minutes long,” Cawthon says. “It’s got to be four or five minutes. The musical composition’s highs and lows must be interesting from an auditory point
of view. Now, I’ve got to get lightning in an artistic way. Now, they have to coordinate the water.”

• The biggest draws are “Frozen’s” “Let It Go,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Greatest Showman.” “Instead of getting 500 to 1,000 people to a weekend show and 250 for a weeknight, on theme show night, we can get 2,000 to 3,000, and when doing “Frozen” and we invite an actor, we can get 4,000 to 5,000 people spread across the lawn,” Cawthon says.

• The fountain’s annual budget is $40,000.