Federal Hill merchants are irate over the city's cosmetic solution to a partially inoperable fountain in DePasquale Square: filling the bottom well with flowers and greenery.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Maybe it’s not like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, but it’s pretty close, say some on Federal Hill, who are indignant that the famous fountain in DePasquale Square is flowing with more flowers this week than rivulets.

The plantings of ferns and other flora Tuesday — hours before the annual Federal Hill Stroll of area restaurants — was an apparent attempt by the city to put the best face on a scum-filled and partially inoperable icon.

Several Federal Hill neighbors like Xiony Bernard, the general manager of the Hotel Dolce Villa, in the square, said the city never drained or cleaned the fountain last October as it usually does.

Over the cold winter, the fountain cracked, she said, and water poured across the popular outdoor square.

Walter Potenza, who operates a cooking school on Atwells Avenue across from the square and gives tours of Federal Hill, said “you could have run a Zamboni out here and offered skating, there was so much ice.”

Apparently, the cold also damaged some pipes under the fountain, said Rick Simone, executive director of the Federal Hill Commerce Association.

The winter passed, spring arrived, and no one fixed the fountain, which draws thousands of visitors each summer for a little piece of Italian ambiance.

Bernard isn’t happy with the plantings in a fountain well that usually serves as a receptacle for wishes. “It’s ridiculous,” she said Wednesday. “It looks like some kind of funeral parlor.”

Chris Chabot, secretary for the Federal Hill Commerce Association, said, “Obviously, it’s a disappointment, for sure. The visitors come because they love this beautiful fountain. It doesn’t make sense, the timing alone.”

Potenza, who has been on Federal Hill for more than 40 years, calls the fountain mess-up a disappointing and cultural faux pas.

“The fountain, per se, is a structure, but the water itself is a reflection of the Italian lifestyle, to the sitting outdoors, the romance of being Italian, to dining out, to enjoy a cup a coffee, the espresso, the pastry, the glass of wine. To chat, to meet. It’s a meeting place.”

The fountain’s two top levels are still trickling with water, and there is the accompanying sound of tranquility that will still please outdoor diners.

But the question now is: what to do, says Potenza.

Repairing the fountain — which has served as the backdrop for wedding proposals and family vacation photos for generations — would likely mean ripping up some of the square just before the busy summer tourist season.

Simone says city officials first advised the commerce association of the fountain problem in April when a crew went to turn on the water.

A city spokesman, Victor Morente, said in a statement to The Journal Wednesday afternoon that the flowers in the fountain are a temporary solution.

"City engineers advised that a permanent fix that would address all the deficiencies of the structure would more than likely require extensive construction work and could cost up to $265,000," said Morente.

Repairs would include fixing the fountain's electrical vault, site and fountain piping, and concrete basin, plus re-tiling, as well as work on surrounding lighting and paving.

The city and local businesses are studying the problem now, neighbors said, and hope to come up with a workable plan of action next week.

— tmooney@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7359

On Twitter: @mooneyprojo