San Francisco's Historic Carousels
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 Gardens is 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
In 1912, the carousel was brought to San
Francisco and installed at Playland at the Beach in 1996, 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
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 Zeum, 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 Street
and Howard, on the Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Cost: $2 for two rides
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 about 2.5 million
revolutions since its placement in the Zoo in 1925.
The San Francisco Zoological Society is
currently restoring the carousel, and is trying to raise the $2 million
needed to restore it. Since September 2001, the carousel has been closed
for restorations; each of the animals has taken more than 1,000 hours to
restore. This is just one of many projects underway to improve the Zoo for
both animals and humans.
Location: 1 Zoo Road, San Francisco
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Cost: General Admission is $10 adults, $4 children; San Francisco
residents $8 adults, $1.50 children
Golden Gate Park
Originally built in 1912, the Golden Gate
Park carousel was made in upstate New York by the Herschell-Spillman
Company. It was one of the main carousels at the 1939 World's Fair on
Treasure Island and used in several public parks on the West Coast. In
addition to 62 menagerie animals, the original carrousel hosted several
decorative benches, a complete set of picture panels and an organ.
Golden Gate Park is home to recreation,
international culture and scientific exhibits that draw thousands of
visitors each day. Golden Gate Park was created for the people of San
Francisco in the late 18th century to provide for open space for urban
dwellers. Golden Gate Park is San Francisco's largest park, covering 1,013
Location: Martin Luther King Drive
and Bowling Green Drive
Hours: Friday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Cost: Adults $1.00, children $.25 per ride
PIER 39 unveiled the new, two-tiered San
Francisco carousel in 2002. The 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 Street, 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
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 over 110 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 8 p.m.; Friday and
Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $2 per ride
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Article courtesy of the San Francisco
Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Photos courtesy of Pier 39.
San Francisco's Pier 39 Celebrates 25 Years of Success in
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