Spin City - San Francisco’s Historic Carousels
The next time you take a ride on a carousel, be sure to let your inner child come out to play but remember to take it easy on that rollicking noble steed beneath you – it could be a rare antique. While more than 7,000 carousels once existed, just 300 remain, with four unique carousels residing in San Francisco.
While a merry-go-round and a carousel are usually interchangeable, a merry-go-round usually refers to a piece of playground equipment consisting of a small circular platform that revolves when pushed or pedaled. A carousel, however, is something far grander.
A Royal Past
The word carousel is derived from the Italian word garosello and the Spanish word carosella, both of which mean “little war.” They describe the serious game that Arabian and Turkish horseman first played in the 12th century with real horses and lances. The game eventually spread to Europe in the 1680s, becoming an event of pageantry and horsemanship. Craftsman created wooden, suspended horses for young royalty to practice for these tournaments. From this, the modern carousel was developed and the “golden age” of the wooden carousel flourished from 1880 to the early 1930s.
Yerba Buena Gardens
San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardensis home to a hand-carved carousel built in Rhode Island by Charles Looff in 1906. It’s the carousel’s exquisite detailing and superb craftsmanship that makes critics consider the work a masterpiece of American art. It is also one of the few carousels ever made that features a whole menagerie of 65 fanciful animals from giraffes, camels and rams, to jumping horses with gilded chariots.
In 1912, the carousel was brought to San Francisco and installed at Playland at the Beach, where it spun for 60 years. After extensive refurbishing and renovation it was sent to Long Beach’s Shoreline Village near the Queen Mary where it ran from 1982 until 1998.
The carousel finally came home to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens, where it is now housed in a stunning glass pavilion. This beautiful example of “old fashioned” entertainment is now the cornerstone of a pavilion of “new fangled” fun, including the Children’s Creativity Museum, an arts and technology studio for children, a regulation-size ice rink, and a bowling center. New flooring, horsehair tails, brass poles, and jewels for the animals have renewed the carousel to its original splendor.
Location: Corner of Fourth St. and Howard, on the Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Cost: $3 for two rides
Media contact: Cathy Barragan, 415.820.3356, firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Francisco Zoo
The carousel that now resides at the San Francisco Zoo was one of the last machines constructed by William H. Dentzel, whose family was renowned for their intricate wood-carved carousels. Made in Philadelphia in 1921, the carousel’s 48 carved horses, giraffes, ostriches and cats – with details of harness bands, saddle-blankets, flowing manes and tails – have traveled more than 2.5 million revolutions since its placement in the Zoo in 1925.
The San Francisco Zoological Society recently completed construction on a new plaza surrounding the Dentzel Carousel. The plaza was designed to create a unique and memorable community resource for birthday parties, family gatherings and special events of all kinds. Three bench walls define the plaza’s exterior that will enable guests to sit back, relax and watch riders enjoy the historical treasure.
Location: 1 Zoo Road, San Francisco
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Cost: General Admission is $15 adults, $9 children; San Francisco residents $12 adults, $5.50 children for zoo admission; carousel ride additional $2.
Media Contact: Gwendolyn Tornatore, 415-753-7174
Golden Gate Park
Originally built in 1912, the www.sfpt.org/carousel.html
Hours: Friday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Adults $1.50, children $.50 per ride
Media Contact: Elton Pon, 415- 831-2782
PIER 39’s Italian-handcrafted carousel was made by the Bertazzon Company and is the only one in the U.S. that has artistic renderings of its home city, including visions of the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Lombard St., Alcatraz and the famous sea lions at PIER 39. The carousel has seating for 50 people and is adorned with 1,800 twinkling lights, moving horses, rocking chariots and swinging swings.
PIER 39 is a top San Francisco attraction providing visitors with postcard views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the San Francisco Bay and the City skyline. Telescopes are placed along the location’s perimeter road for viewing the sights. It also has more than 60 unique shops and several restaurants with Bay views.
Location: PIER 39, First Level at the North end
Hours: Sunday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: $3 per ride
Media Contact: Courtney Cvetko, 415-705-5500
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