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Ridin’ to new home? Restore Oregon searches for owner for Jantzen Beach carousel
By Jason Vondersmith, The Portland Tribune,
The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner
After 11 years out to pasture, including being housed and restored in a North Portland warehouse, it’s time for a new home to be found for the historic and beloved Jantzen Beach horses.
Handlers are searching for a new entity to take possession of the 82 horses and everything mechanical, electrical and decorative that goes with the carousel that entertained kids and adults through generations at Jantzen Beach starting nearly 100 years ago. Stephanie Brown, who has dedicated the past six years to the restoration project, said it’s a bit of a sentimental time. They call her the Director of Carousel Planning and Education for Restore Oregon , the statewide nonprofit preservation organization, but they might as well call her mom.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with those horses,” Brown said. “Over time, it feels like they have personalities. I love it.”
It’s not a hard deadline, but Restore Oregon wants to find a new owner by Sept. 15. And, Restore Oregon won’t be selling the carousel, but basically handing it off and aiding in establishing its new home, while protecting its preservation with covenants and helping with all the logistics — i.e. raising money to finish the project, and orchestrating the completion, if needed.
Brown, who has a background in architectural design and who taught design at Portland Community College, said she has fielded many inquiries about the Jantzen Beach carousel. Some of them have been funky ideas, too — making it an enclosed underwater attraction, maybe a rooftop ride, although that doesn’t work because it’s 20 tons and meant for indoors. Restore Oregon wants to keep the carousel in Oregon or Southwest Washington. The logical options would be the city of Portland, Multnomah County and Metro, and Brown said she has requested meetings with them. Wouldn’t the carousel look great in a big glass pavilion in a park setting?
“We will pass the (Preservation Roadmap) protocol along to who takes ownership of the carousel, but we would be happy to be preservation consultants,” Brown said.
“We’re looking for a home. Although we’re a statewide organization, we’re tiny. There are seven of us, some of us half time. We don’t own property. If we had property and could build a pavilion for the carousel, it’d be a different conversation. We’re looking for somebody who has property — a zoo or museum or botanical garden or existing attraction. Or perhaps a city development manager in a town in Oregon that wants to create something new to draw tourism. Somebody with property zoned properly and has the legal right to build a carousel pavilion. It needs to be stored inside, it is 100 years old. To protect it and have longevity, it needs to be in a climate controlled situation.”
It’s the last known Parker Superior Park Model carousel known to exist. Measuring more than 66 feet in diameter and standing nearly three stories high, the original carousel featured 72 hand-carved horses and it was built in the early 1920s and had been on Hayden Island since 1928, when the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park opened.
It was briefly not in use in the early 1970s, as the new home of the then-Jantzen Beach mall was being built and carousel being worked on, and then in 1995 because of another restoration. Many current Oregonians might remember its latest stint, 1996 to 2012, before the tearing down of the Jantzen Beach mall.
About five years later, then-Jantzen Beach Center owners donated the carousel to Restore Oregon, which had already placed it on the nonprofit’s most endangered places when the mall went away. Restore Oregon, which usually works with buildings (such as Billy Webb Elks Lodge in Portland, movie theaters) had no funds for storage or restoration, but Brown said it took on the project anyway, “because it’s the last of its kind in the world.” Restore Oregon would be just temporary stewards, though, while searching for a permanent owner.
Grants helped fund the project, so far. On contract, Brown has been able to hire Pete Slenning for wood carving and repair — he has worked on an Albany carousel — and Cora Finney on colors and painting.
They have started the work to make the Jantzen Beach carousel authentic, like it’s from the ‘20s — the 1920s.
“We’re essentially writing the handbook to restore the carousel. We pulled all 82 horses out of storage, went over them, see what’s broken, where there are missing jewels and dry rot,” Brown said. “We’ve also done the canopy pieces (evaluation) and tested everything that needed to be test.
“Through photos, video, step-by-step instructions, when the full restoration comes, we’d have the full plan. We have repairs set up; we had an expert come in and look at mechanical and electrical, and what needs repair and replacement.”
Finney, a Southeast Portland resident, said it has been a “labor of love“ working on the horses and “a very sentimental project for me.”
“The work is methodically detail-oriented. It requires a certain level of passion, if not outright obsessiveness. I enjoy it immensely. Restore Oregon’s approach to the carousel’s restoration has been nothing short of holistic. Together we’ve created what we believe may be the first non-toxic carousel paint protocol of its kind, and have put it to the test with absolute success.”
Finney and Brown used historic photographs from the 1920s to guide color decisions, but it’s been more of a hybrid approach than a recreation — “trying to recapture the look from the (1920s) while keeping the concept of green leaves and colored flowers from the 1990s alive, because we know people have a lot of nostalgia for that era in the carousel’s history,” Finney said.
Some horse tails and legs have broken off, while parts of the necks and elsewhere have cracks. Brown said some damage was done by the spilling of soda on the horses in their last days of riding. The carousel also has 1,350 light bulbs, and it would behoove the new owner to install LEDs, Brown said.
Brown has seen some case studies on restoration of carousels about half the size of this one. They are in the $1 to $2 million range, meaning the Jantzen Beach carousel restoration is going to be more expensive. “There needs to be a fundraising campaign to fund full restoration,” Brown said. “Miller Paint has been incredibly generous and provided paint.”
Of the 82 horses, Brown said, 72 horses would have to be fixed to complete the full carousel. Ten of the horses are spares.
Four completed horses were sent off in November 2022 to Oregon Historical Society for an exhibit, “The Odyssey of the Historic Jantzen Beach Carousel,” including one in a work-in-progress status (primed but not painted).
Once done, the carousel would turn again, fully operationally with the horses rideable.
Brown has two children, one at University of Oregon and one in high school. The college kid remembers the carousel and wants to see it come back, she said, and the 10th grader rode it but doesn’t remember it.
Anybody 15 years or younger probably doesn’t remember the carousel, she added, “which is sad. For me, personally, because of how my kids loved it is why I want to bring it back.”
Because Slenning does the carving and repair in Albany, Brown often drives with horses in her car down into the Willamette Valley.
She laughs at the prospect of people on Interstate 5 passing a vehicle with a bunch of carousel horses (and parts) in it.
Brown hopes that a new owner and a new home can be found for the Jantzen Beach carousel. She and Restore Oregon do not want to pass it on to an out-of-state group. Sept. 15 will be six years since Restore Oregon took possession of the carousel.
“It doesn’t have to happen all by September, but hopefully we can find out who can join us by then,” she said. “We hope to have found the perfect partner.
“The reality is if September rolls around, and we’ve been trying for six years to find an Oregon solution, and maybe there isn’t one, maybe there’s a home in Washington or Idaho. It doesn’t do anybody any good sitting in storage. We’d rather have it enjoyed by people rather than in boxes. I’m feeling pretty hopeful right now. I wasn’t sure how much interest there would be, but I’ve had people reach out from all over the state. But, people should keep the ideas coming.”
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