The “Guardian of Water” sculpture fountain on the harbor side of the building began as a separate project prior to completion of the Civic Center. Local resident Helen Towle willed more than $30,000 to the San Diego Fine Arts Society, $6,000 of which could be used exclusively for purchasing “works of art of a permanent nature, to be given to the people of San Diego.” It was decided that the funds would be best put toward the creation of a public sculpture. The Works Progress Administration supplied the remaining $14,000 necessary to fund a commissioned sculpture by prominent local artist Donal Hord.
In July 1937, a 22-ton granite block from a Lakeside quarry was delivered to Hord’s studio. Hord labored over the sculpture for two years, shaping the block into a figure of a pioneer woman holding a water jug, symbolic of San Diego’s guardianship over one of its most precious resources: water.
Mosaic tiles, also designed by Hord, cover the base of the statue. The mosaic symbolizes clouds in the form of kneeling nudes, who pour water from jars over a dam which flows into a conventionalized citrus fruit orchard. Shapes of dolphins and fish were carved into the interior basin, measuring 17 feet, 6 inches in diameter. The circumference of the basin bears a design of sea snails. When asked to explain the meaning behind the mosaic patterns, Hord claimed that it was his idea to produce these different areas almost as though a pebble were dropped in the water; the water first coming from the clouds, giving life to the land, then spilling over into the sea, which was represented by fish forms, and finally ending on a shoreline in the drawing of sea snails.57 The combined statue and base rise 22 feet, 3 inches, with the statue itself reaching a height of 13 feet, 3 inches. The “Guardian of Water” was dedicated on June 10, 1939, in a ceremony at the new Civic Center.
In 1960 a replica of “Guardian of Water” was sent to Yokohama, Japan as a gift from the San Diego-Yokohama Friendship Commission and emphasizing the sculpture’s significance in San Diego history. Hord’s work remains a source of regional pride and a tribute to fine arts.
Watch a documentary produced in the 1930's, called Symphony in Stone. This 14-minute video shows the story of the "Guardian of Water" sculpture that sits on the west plaza of the County Administration Center. The video chronicles the construction and installation of the sculpture.