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Still making magic after 80 years

By Staff | Aug 9, 2019

For over 80 years, a company that calls Cape Coral home has provided wonder, amazement, joy and smiles across the globe.

Liquid Fireworks by Waltzing Waters, a mesmerizing synchronized-to-music water display featuring lighting and, quite frankly, a little bit of magic, has been featured at Disney, Universal, Sea World, Comerica Park in Detroit and in countless venues across the United States, Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.

The magical fountains even caught the eye of the Rosen brothers back when Cape Coral was established, but the company’s story runs much deeper than that.

The idea originated in Germany in the late 1920s when Otto Przystawik, the founder of Waltzing Waters, designed a primitive version of what you see now for an innovative night club hot-spot.

“People started coming and saying, ‘Hey, you know, we think that would be cool for our fair,’ or whatever project, so he put together portable systems, which was really the first time in the world anyone had seen portable fountains,” said Michael Przystawik, president of Liquid Fireworks by Waltzing Waters. He is Otto’s grandson and third generation member of the business, as his father, Gunter, was also a past president.

A promoter by the name of Harold Steinman stumbled upon Przystawik’s fountains in Berlin in 1951 and bought the rights to use its equipment in the western hemisphere after being amazed by them and created a company called Dancing Waters.

In 1952, Dancing Waters debuted in the United States at Radio City Music Hall for its Easter show.

“They had record crowds and lines around the block to come see the dancing fountains,” said Przystawik.

Radio City Music Hall liked the show so much, it booked them for the next six years.

Przystawik said he spoke to someone with ties to the famed Rockefeller venue recently, and they told him that the fountains are “still a legend at Radio City Music Hall.”

To this day, the Dancing Waters is the only outside act that ever came in to Radio City Music Hall and did six consecutive years.

“That was the launching pad,” said Przystawik. “Dancing Waters purchased nearly 100 shows from my grandfather through the years. They did state fairs, Miss America, Miss Universe, Liberace for the last seven years of his career was with the Dancing Waters on stage — that was all my grandfather’s equipment.”

The Rosen brothers saw a Przystawik dancing fountain at a trade fair in Hanover, Germany, sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s and had to have it, but not after some tough negotiations, said Przystawik.

Otto got the one exception from Steinman to sell into their territory, and they allowed him to build a show for the Rosen Brothers in Cape Coral Gardens.

The fountains were constructed in late 1963, early ’64 by Gunter, as Otto never did come over to the United States. From there, Gunter never left.

“My dad was 24 years old, he came here to do the installation,” said Przystawik. “Back then the shows were run by hand off of the control panel and he was supposed to train somebody on how to run shows, and the Rosen brothers said, ‘Hey kid, palm trees, sunshine, why don’t you do it?’ So he said, ‘Heck yeah I’ll try it for six months and lets see how it goes.'”

The Rosen brothers actually created the name “Waltzing Waters” for the Cape Coral Gardens location.

In 1969, Otto became ill and decided to retire. He stopped manufacturing shows.

In 1971, the Rosen brothers sold the gardens, which left Gunter an unemployed German immigrant fountain operator in Cape Coral.

Turns out, Gunter and his wife were founding members of the German American Social Club in Cape Coral and the club was looking to raise money for a clubhouse.

The property on Pine Island Road was in the club’s possession, and the members decided to create a corporation that paid Gunter to put on shows at the club to help fund the clubhouse, which they eventually raised enough funds for.

Waltzing Waters actually put Cape Coral on the map, literally, as the Rand McNally mapping company for the first time recognized the city thanks to the attraction at the social club.

The show ran at the German American Social Club from 1972-82 until a falling out happened between Gunter and the then-president of the club.

Waltzing Waters opened an attraction inside of San Carlos Park while it was also at the German club, in hopes to drive more people to the Pine Island Road location. After the falling out, Waltzing Waters remained at San Carlos Park until 1991.

“We moved the outdoor show to San Carlos Park and started running the two together, daytime and nighttime shows,” said Przystawik. “The indoor and outdoor shows have different personalities.”

Unfortunately, Gunter fell ill with cancer at the age of 52.

“We got to the point that we knew he wasn’t going to make it, and he came to me and said, ‘Son, it’s your future. What do you want to do?'” said Przystawik.

Przystawik loves manufacturing shows and loves the attractions business, but decided he just wanted to focus on strictly the manufacturing side of things.

“Someday I might do an attraction, but if I do it’s going to be where I want to do it, when I want to do it and with whom I want to do it,” Przystawik told partners at San Carlos Park, leading to Waltzing Waters closing its shows down at that location.

The Waltzing Water name stretches far beyond Cape Coral and even the country.

In ’72, Gunter set up a show in Niagara Falls, Canada. In ’82 they set up a show in Singapore, which led to a projects in Hong Kong, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The name had grown so much that businesses around the globe began reaching out to Przystawik for the company’s services.

Now, Liquid Fireworks by Waltzing Waters focuses on manufacturing and rentals.

Locally, it has been featured at the Shell Factory and the Edison Home for holiday shows.

Unfortunately, the Waltzing Waters show is coming to an end at the Edison Home this year, as officials there chose not to renew their contract with Przystawik.

The name Liquid Fireworks, funny enough, came from a young girl who was watching the display with her mother and said, “Look mommy, liquid fireworks.”

Przystawik said that struck a chord with him, and he adopted the name.

The company has installed and rented to public plazas, mall courtyards, hotels, retail space, on barges and in bodies of water.

One of those venues comes with a one-of-a-kind claim.

“I’m the only person you’ll talk to that can say Michael Jackson was my opening act,” Przystawik said.

Waltzing Waters had set up a display behind a concert venue where the mega-star was performing, and when Jackson’s concert let out, they set off the display for all of those in attendance. Now, Liquid Fireworks has a tribute to the “King of Pop’s” legendary music.

The list of countries Waltzing Waters has installed a show is endless, and many Floridians have probably seen one of the Przystawik fountains at theme parks in Orlando.

Waltzing Waters has spent many years in the likes of Universal Studios, Sea World, Disney, and countless other theme parks spanning the globe.

The largest display they ever put on was a 330-foot-long show in Vietnam as part of a downtown redevelopment project.

They have designs as small at 15-feet long and you only need about 16 inches of standing water to operate in, as it recycles.

Spray height varies in size from 12 feet high to 150 feet high on larger models.

What sets Waltzing Waters apart other than its spot-on water choreography and lighting to music, is that the equipment is reliable.

Maintenance for their projects are minimal, and Przystawik told of a show that ran for 30-plus years at a venue without having any major overhauling whatsoever.

“I’m 58, and I’ve never replaced a light fixture for a client ever,” said Przystawik. “All you do with our product is change a light bulb, end of story.”

So, how does it work?

“The (conventional) system has 21 basic patterns in it. Each basic pattern is self-sustained with two pumps,” said Przystawik.

One pump produces a “low height” and another is “fully open” and produces a medium height. The two together makes it raise to full height.

“The movements are custom manufactured moving parts and is a patented design,” said Przystawik. “There are two electromechanical gear motors in the system, each one has a rotary motion that sort of recreates a locomotive motion that pushes rods back and forth.”

So, how do they make the water dance?

“The choreography — when you listen to the music, you look at it as dance, you don’t look at it as a musician,” said Przystawik. “What we’re trying to capture is the emotion and the feel of the program. We have a way where we can actually tap the beats into a program. So we say we want this formation or alternating formations.”

All Przystawik has to do is plug into the sound system and into the show controller, scroll through his list of songs, and the show plays.

“It’s extremely reliable,” said Przystawik, who mentioned that it has come a long way from the original hand controls used each show.

“When I go to Disney and I see the ‘closed for maintenance signs,’ it makes me cry,” Przystawik said. “I know that our design philosophy could apply to so many things out there in the world.”

Przystawik was invited to a German theme park celebrating being open for 75 years. For their 25th anniversary, they installed one of Otto’s shows, and it is still running today, 50 years later.

Liquid Fireworks can cater to nearly any type of genre of music, but it’s about what fits best, said Przystawik. They have classical tracks, holiday shows, pop music shows and more.

“We try and custom manufacture to fit the project we’re working on,” he said.

As of today, there are no Liquid Fireworks shows in Cape Coral. The closest you can go and see one of their fountains is in Port Charlotte at Kidstar Park.

“I’ve been looking for someone to partner with to bring Waltzing Waters back to Cape Coral,” said Przystawik. He was looking to put a show in at Four Freedoms Park, but the deal fell through.

Przystawik’s father, on his death bed, said that he would love to give back to Cape Coral, as the city helped a young, poor immigrant from Germany make a living.

“We would love to be in this city and make something happen,” said Przystawik.

Still do this day, when Przystawik sees his attraction bring joy to people — and it’s brought joy to millions — he has a tear in his eye and can picture his grandfather Otto with his hand on his shoulder and his father Gunter right beside him. A true family legacy. And what a legacy it is.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj