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The Carrousel Soft Sell: Give Life's Go-Rounds a Circular Redirection

July 07, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

If you are sick and tired of traveling the straight and narrow and think you would like to take a little break and revolve aimlessly in circles for a while, Orange County is one of the best places in Southern California to do exactly that.

Within the county boundaries are five classic carrousels, all catering to what may be a universal need to sit astride a brightly colored horse (or rabbit or camel or zebra) and go charging off in all directions.

Knott's Berry Farm: The large and loud carrousel beside the pond in the park's Fiesta Village area is the oldest and probably the rarest in the county. Built about 1902 by the famous Pennsylvania carrousel maker Gustav Dentzel, it is just one of a handful of Dentzel grand carrousels left in the United States, according to Knott's spokesman, Stuart Zanville.

The carrousel is notable for its variety of intricately carved animals--horses, zebra, ostriches, cats, rabbits, camels and others, which are worth up to $100,000 each, Zanville said. The outer ring of animals and seats--known in the trade as gliders--are placed in the classic carrousel manner in that they do not move up and down like the inner rings. The outer animals are also known as standers, while the inner animals are called jumpers.

The rotation of the carrousel is accompanied by music from two, large, turn-of-the-century band organs, a Wurlitzer and a Gavioli, which can reproduce the sounds of 22 instruments.

Knott's obtained the carrousel in 1955, Zanville said, after it had been used in Pennsylvania and Ohio parks. It gets a real workout at Knott's, with more than 1.2 million passengers a year.

(While not a carrousel in the classic sense, Knott's also has what Zanville said is the oldest operating merry-go-round in the country: a small wooden contraption with hanging seats, powered by a mule. It dates from 1860 and is in the park's Camp Snoopy toddler area.)

Disneyland: This carrousel, in Fantasyland, also features many figures carved by the Dentzel company. Unlike Knott's, all 85 figures on the King Arthur Carrousel are horses and, for the last decade, all the horses have been white. Also, all ranks of horses are equipped to move up and down.

The carrousel was a derelict when Walt Disney bought it for $22,000 in 1955, but today park officials estimate that one out of every five park visitors will ride it--about 2 million each year.

Maintaining the horses is a full-time job, park spokesman Bob Roth said. Brass and paint are touched up each day, and each horse is removed from the carrousel about once a year for refurbishment.

Balboa Fun Zone: Operated by concessionaires Bob Speth and Joe Tunstall, this carrousel was built in 1954 for Santa's Village in the Santa Cruz Mountains town of Scotts Valley. The theme park closed in the late 1970s.

The carrousel was stored outdoors under a canvas tarp, Tunstall said: "It rotted. When we went to look at it, we fell through the decking when we tried to stand on it."

Tunstall and Speth bought the carrousel in 1985 and had it restored by the son of the original builder. It was installed at the Fun Zone in March, 1986, and opened a month later on the Fun Zone's upper patio.

The 30 jumping horses, eight standing ponies and two other gliders carry 160,000 to 180,000 riders each year, Tunstall estimated, "and 60% of them are adults, not kids. On Valentine's Day, there wasn't a kid on it. Just adults."

South Coast Plaza: The county's most modern carrousel, built specifically for the mall by a manufacturer in Mountain View, was installed in Carrousel Court in March, 1967.

"The origin of it was almost like an architectural treatment for the original grouping of stores," South Coast Plaza spokesman Werner Escher said.

"The idea was that if you have a long look (down the mall) when you emerge from Sears or the May Co., it's not very interesting. The carrousel breaks up that distance, and it has energy and movement."

A reproduction of a 1900s-era carrousel, it was the inspiration for the South Coast Plaza logo, which is the silhouette of a small girl riding a carrousel horse, Escher said.

Also, he said, it has been around long enough to go through a generation of riders: "We have women coming back with their children now who rode on the carrousel when they were 5 or 6 years old themselves."

Children's Museum at La Habra: Easily the smallest in the county with just eight animals on its revolving platform, this carrousel is also one of the smallest of the Dentzel variety, according to museum director Catherine Michaels.

The carrousel is a scaled-down version of a larger Dentzel and was made specifically for children, she said. It was donated to the museum in 1984 by William H. Dentzel, a Santa Barbara attorney and grandson of Gustav Dentzel.

The figures are not carved but were cast in fiberglass from molds of original Dentzel animals. They are, however, hand-painted by members of the Dentzel family, Michaels said.

The entire carrousel is a mere 10 feet in diameter and 10 feet high.


Prices: Unlimited use of the carrousels at Knott's Berry Farm, Disneyland and the Children's Museum at La Habra are included in the overall admission prices. The Fun Zone carrousel costs $1 if the rider buys individual tickets or 80 cents if tickets are bought in quantity. South Coast Plaza carrousel tickets are 25 cents per ride.

Hours: The Children's Museum at La Habra is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. All other attractions are open seven days a week in the summer.

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