Portland's famous historic carousel ready for a new run
Remember the old days as a kid when you ventured to the mall with your parents, jumped on a glowing carousel while jolly circus music and laughter filled your ears?
There's something about that music, the shiny brass and mirrors, the colorful animals frozen yet in motion, going 'round and 'round that elicits a powerful sense of nostalgia — and Portland's famous Jantzen Beach Carousel was no exception.
Constructed in 1904 by C. W. Parker for the St. Louis World's Fair, it was listed in 1987 on the National Register of Historic Places, although taken off the list in 2008 amid plans to move it to the Portland Children's Museum, which never happened.
The carousel vanished in 2012 amid renovations to the Jantzen Beach Center mall, leaving much speculation by the public. But in a surprise announcement by Restore Oregon on Thursday, Sept. 7, the historic preservation organization has taken ownership of the beloved carousel, which has been stored in a warehouse location near Jantzen Beach Center on North Portland's Hayden Island. Officials don't want the exact location disclosed to protect the carousel.
Where'd it go?
The carousel disappeared in 2012 with no statement from the mall's owners, Edens Inc., a South Carolina development company, leaving the public to speculate that it had been damaged or sold.
Community members rallied to list it on Oregon's Most Endangered Places that year. In July, the mall was sold to Kimco Reality Corp.
"At the time, there was no indication of whether it would be (re)installed, so rumors circulated persistently that the carousel had been sold off, and our efforts to engage with the owners just didn't bear fruit until recently," said Restore Oregon Executive Director Peggy Moretti.
But, after five years of mystery, the historical preservation organization announced Thursday that the mall's former owners donated the carousel to the group. Ownership officially transferred on Sept. 1.
Restore Oregon doesn't plan to be long-term owners of the carousel, and has launched a campaign to find a new Portland-area location and owner.
"It's our goal, once a new site and plan have been developed, to transfer ownership to an appropriate entity after placing protective covenants on it to ensure its preservation," Moretti said.
Restore Oregon is ready to reassemble the carousel, which means now the "hard work really begins," according to Moretti. The carousel is disassembled into hundreds of pieces in the warehouse.
"This is no small task. We need a place, a plan and fair amount of money to offset staff time, and a very substantial cost of finding a home for a carousel that's also one of the largest carousels in the world," Moretti said.
Carving a place in history
The 72-horse carousel has a history that starts in 1904 when it was hand-carved in Abilene, Kansas, for the St. Louis World's Fair. It moved to Venice Beach, California, in 1921, and was sold to Hayden Island Inc. in 1928 for $28,000, according to Restore Oregon.
The carousel moved to the now-demolished Jantzen Beach Amusement Park where it operated for 41 years. The park closed in 1970. The Jantzen Beach Center was constructed and took in the refurbished carousel.
In 1995, the carousel was threatened by mall redevelopment, but saved by community advocates. It was disassembled and renovated at a cost of $500,000.
In 2012, it was closed in anticipation of the $50 million remodel of the Jantzen Beach Center, and the last ride on the carousel was at 6 p.m. April 22, 2012.
Future lives on
Restore Oregon has started a formal campaign to help the carousel find a new home. A "Blue Ribbon Committee" was formed to help, which includes a number of community members, nonprofit leaders and elected officials, including Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.
"My most cherished childhood memories are of riding carousels. I remember riding a historic carousel in the middle of Central Park," Fish said of the large park in the heart of New York City. "But I actually grew up in rural upstate New York, so the carousels that I remember were in county fairs in places like Poughkeepsie, New York, all the way up to Cooperstown.
"This whole enterprise touches us deeply in our hearts because it's so much a part of our history and our memory. This one's from the golden age," he said.
The golden age he's referring to is the heyday of carousel creation around the turn of the century (the late 1800s to the early 1900s). A 2014 article in the Atlantic Magazine about carousels cited Guernsey's, a New York City auction house, in writing that the number of carousels in America had dropped from 5,000 to 150.
According to a census of carousels on the National Carousel Association website, http://www.carousels.org, it lists 400 carousels in the United States and Canada. There are seven in Oregon with three in Portland, including the Jantzen Beach Carousel, one at Oaks Amusement Park, and a portable carousel used by Funtastic Shows, a traveling carnival with headquarters on Southeast 108th Avenue.
"I think Mr. Parker's carousel … may be the national treasure. The opportunity for this to have a permanent home and to go alongside so many of our other iconic Portland treasures is irresistible," Fish said.
Want to help?
Restore Oregon is asking people to share their videos and photos of the carousel with them on social media. The group is also asking any local businesses and nonprofits to get in touch with them if they have a potential site for the carousel, as well as government officials to include the carousel in potential plans.
Donate or find out more about the campaign by clicking here.
Reporter, Portland Tribune
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