Lavishly restored 1922 Ohio carousel reopens in Brooklyn

On Friday, September 16, a carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) in 1922 for the now-defunct Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio, will again delight ladies and gentlemen and kids of all ages, only now their view will be of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.

Idora Park officially closed its doors after 85 years on Labor Day 1984, after a fire in April devastated much of the park, including its famed 1929 wooden coaster, The Wild Cat. The carousel, scorched but intact, sold at auction October 20th of that year. It would have been just another sad story of how the decline of the urban manufacturing base decimated a local business until it was sold for scrap, but this merry-go-round got lucky. Each of its 48 horses and 2 chariots were sold individually, but at the end of the auction all the bids were tallied up and a single buyer was offered the opportunity to take the entire carousel for the combined sum. New York real estate developer David Walentas and his wife Jane bought Philadelphia Toboggan Company #61 for $385,000.

They were in the market because Walentas was developing a waterfront shopping complex in the Brooklyn neighborhood known as DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). A rounded riverside spot seemed like the perfect place for an antique carousel so they went and bought them one. They hired a specialized company to dismantle PTC #61 and ship the whole shebang to Brooklyn, where Jane, who has a master’s degree in fine art, began researching carousel restoration.

Instead of outsourcing, Jane decided to take on the massive restoration herself. It’s an incredible story of obsession and dedication. First she documented like crazy, taking pictures and samples and notes on the main parts of the carousel. The original paint was unsalvageable so she sent the parts to a chemical stripper so the dozen layers of overpaint could be removed. Jane had a carpenter repair the parts, prime them and then set them aside in storage to focus on the stars of the show, the horses and chariots.

I spent years, mostly alone, scraping the many layers of park paint to reveal the original palette and beautiful carvings. I had hoped to be able to keep the horses in their factory paint, but was eventually convinced that it was not possible. Much of the paint was fragile and the surface of most of the horses was rough and needed too much repair to have been left as they were. Once again, I did precise matches of the factory colors, and traced, drew and photographed everything I uncovered. I worked scraping paint off the horses, sporadically over the course of about 16 years.

In June of 2004, the decades of work came to a head. She moved into a new studio, hired more help and set about doing all the repairs to the individual horses. Once repaired, they were repainted with painstaking fidelity to the factory original look, and then, because rich people are crazy, Jane took it a giant mommy step further and gilded all the horses’ metallic fittings and decoration, originally aluminum leaf or aluminum leaf with a gold wash, in freaking palladium and 24 carat gold. She also hired a luxury car customizer from Mercedes-Benz to do all the hand pin striping work on the horse bridles.

The two chariots, “Cherub” and “Liberty” she was able to keep in their original paint. After removing all the coats on top of it, the original paint was sturdy enough to stand on its own with just a little infilling. Although there’s a noticeable cracklure over the chariots’ surface, they still look fantastic even next to the freshly repainted ponies.

In 2006, the carousel was ready to be put back together and on display. Over the years the shopping center project had been scrapped to be replaced with a Empire Fulton Ferry Park, so the Walentas set up the carousel, now renamed “Jane’s Carousel” in honor of its obsessively loving foster mom, in another of their properties, a converted spice warehouse in the DUMBO neighborhood where people could see it among the art galleries but not ride it.

After some struggling with various committees, entities and civic groups, the Walentas got the nod to install the carousel on the waterfront in front of the Civil War-era Tobacco Warehouse. They hired French architect Jean Nouvel to design a suitable pavilion to house it and he created a $9 million transparent acrylic jewel box that would show off the beauty of the carousel during the day, show the riders a most spectacular view and that would at night be lit so that the horses cast huge shadows on the white floor-to-ceiling window shades. They also donated $3.45 million to the park for landscaping and nighttime lighting that will allow the park to stay open until 1:00 AM.

Oh, and they donated a 1922 Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel with palladium and 24 carat gold fittings.

Now the jewel box is done, the parts and horses have been moved in, and as of Friday, Jane’s Carousel will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., every day except Tuesday. A ride costs $2, children under three ride for free.

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23 Comments »

Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-09-16 03:43:34

And meanwhile, Manhattan can eat its (alleged) heart out! Is the name “Philadelphia Toboggan Company” now in the public domain?

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-16 03:52:16

I don’t think so. The company is still with us, although it goes by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc. these days. I imagine they retain the trademark to their original name since they only changed it in 1991.

 
 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-09-16 05:15:40

Well…I guess that’s okay. I really didn’t want to make toboggans anyway!

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-16 12:43:05

You just wanted the name, I understand. It is an extremely cool one.

 
 
Comment by Lizzy Bradbury
2011-09-16 07:08:45

So it’s free for children under three to ride – but what if they’re really BIG? Like bigger than a four-year-old eh?

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-16 12:44:26

You’re not planning on dressing like a baby and getting a really tall person to carry you just so you can ride the carousel for free, are you?

 
 
Comment by Lizzy Bradbury
2011-09-16 07:09:08

:lol:

 
Comment by Map Monkey
2011-09-16 09:26:07

Great story! I wanna go see it (and ride on it!) immediately. Many moons ago, my brother worked for several summers during high school as the carousel keeper-assistant at the also quite old and beautiful one they had (have?) in Forest Park in Queens, NYC. Helping kids get on and off the ride, and starting it up, making sure the music played, no one fell off, etc. No 24K gold leaf on that one, though! Plenty of fond memories of free rides for me!

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-16 12:46:00

What a great summer job. I’m sure you made him resent it by the end of the summer, though, with your constant hanging around scrounging free rides. :giggle:

 
 
Comment by Map Monkey
2011-09-16 09:41:33

OK, I just Googled the Forest Park Carousel, and sadly it is no longer operational. BUT – the carousel is still intact and is in good working order, and they (the NYC Parks Dept.) are apparently soliciting bids from prospective management companies to run it. I remember it was a very profitable business (if only seasonally) when my brother was a teenager working there. (of course they lost money on me and all my little friends with the free rides!)
Anyway, it is wonderful that NYC now has a brand new carousel experience in DUMBO, and of course, the view couldn’t be more spectacular – overlooking the East River and the downtown Manhattan skyline. I imagine as many adults as children will be riding the thing!

Some nice images of the Forest Park carousel:
http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap/queens/forestpark/carousel/index.htm

Some history of the carousel:
http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/forestpark/highlights/12049

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-16 12:40:32

Ooh, I want to ride the tiger! I hope they get a management company in there stat because that is a beautiful carousel. It looks like it’s still in its original pavilion, too. When the Walentas purchased PTC #61, they left the housing behind. It was a plain wooden box, apparently, so they figured they’d just build another one in the new location. Hence the Nouvel-designed acrylic jewel box.

 
 
Comment by Anonymous
2011-09-18 21:13:24

My wife and I have riden that carousel when it was in Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. Thank you Jane for all your tireless work in restoration. We are glad kids…both big and small…can once again enjoy the magic of a carousel.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-18 23:58:31

How wonderful! May I ask when it was that you had the opportunity to ride the carousel in Youngstown? You and the missus simply must make your way back to it now that it’s in Brooklyn. An anniversary celebration, perhaps?

 
 
Comment by Leah and Jack Martin
2011-09-18 21:16:57

Just realized I forgot to identify my comment so it posted as anonymous. We feel fortunate to have been a part of Idora history.

 
Comment by Lesa
2011-09-20 12:22:55

:hattip: I grew up close to Palasides Park and Bertrands Island in New Jersey. Fabulous memories. Thank you for preserving our American history.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-20 23:05:11

You must have had a grand time as a child so close to great amusement parks. :)

 
 
Comment by LadyShea
2011-09-21 20:41:46

That is a thing of beauty. Lady be crazy, but the results are spectacular.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-25 20:27:44

They are. There’s no debating it: palladium and 24K gold look better than aluminum. :giggle:

 
 
Comment by Nullifidian
2011-09-25 13:50:20

If it’s any consolation, the trademarked names are only trademarked for a specific purpose, much like how you can still paint a house yellow despite the fact that Nerf has trademarked it. So if you wanted to name your child Philadelphia Toboggan Company, then go for it! Nobody will be legally able to stop you. ;)

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-25 20:31:13

:lol: I’m actually amazed Frank Zappa hasn’t beaten everyone to that punch.

 
 
Comment by chris
2012-08-14 09:07:24

I grew up in Youngstown and still live there, i went to idora many times every summer and rode the carousel, i was in new york a few days ago and went over to brooklyn and rode it for the first time in 28 years and yes i shed some tears wishing idora was still open and we still had the carousel but since we dont im glad it id where it is being rode on by a whole new generation and it more beautiful than ever, Jane did an amazing job so on behalf of the people in youngstown thank you for saving and restoring our idora park carousel!!!!

Comment by livius drusus
2012-08-15 02:06:12

How wonderful that you could relive one of your treasured experiences even though you had to go to New York to do it. How was the view inside the jewel box?

 
 
Comment by Tammy Kausits
2012-10-30 22:13:20

Well I cannot say how thrilled I am to see this beautiful display. When I was young and I rode on this carousel at Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. I have so many great memories in that park and on this carousel which is called Jane’s Carousel. Jane you are very lucky to have a piece of my youth and a place I call home with you….Thank you for restoring such a great memory for me. Tammy K.

 
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