San Francisco Zoo Carousel
The San Francisco Zoo Carousel was built in 1921 in Philadelphia by the Dentzel Carousel Company under William Dentzel, son and heir of the company’s founder, Gustav Dentzel. After a short stint at the Pacific City Amusement Park in Redwood City, California, it was installed in San Francisco in 1925, in what was then a children’s park but is now part of the zoo. The carousel has been restored several times, most notably in 2000–2002.
Alongside its Dentzel carvings, the carousel features figures by the legendary craftsman M. C. Illions of Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Another of the horses is much older than the carousel itself—a “transitional Dentzel listener,” so called because of the position of the ears. Carved between 1885 and 1890, it is said to be one of only two such figures in the world.
The carousel is today officially named the Eugene Friend Carousel, after a San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist.
Yerba Buena Gardens Carousel
The carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens is located beside the Children’s Creativity Museum—named Zeum at the time of these photos—near the entrance to the Moscone Convention Center. (The carousel is operated by the museum on behalf of the city.) It was built by Charles Looff in 1906 in East Providence, Rhode Island.
San Francisco was the original destination of the carousel when built, but because of the 1906 earthquake and fire, it was diverted to Seattle’s Luna Park. A few years later, though, it was sent on to Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco, where it operated from 1914 to 1973.
After the amusement park closed, a private purchaser took the carousel to New Mexico for restoration. The carousel then operated from 1984 to 1998 in southern California at Long Beach’s Shoreline Village, near the Queen Mary. But it returned in 1998 to San Francisco, where it was restored further and installed at its present home. Additional restoration took place in 2013–2014.
The carousel is housed in a glass pavilion, which bathes it in light much brighter than enjoyed by most carousels. Music is supplied by recordings. It has had a variety of names in this location—Zeum Carousel, Children’s Creativity Carousel, and since its 2014 reopening, LeRoy King Carousel. King was a redevelopment commissioner, civil rights activist, and labor leader who led the effort to bring the carousel back to San Francisco. His inspiration for that effort? He and his future wife rode this carousel at Playland-at-the-Beach on their very first date.
Golden Gate Park Carousel
The Golden Gate Park Carousel was built in 1914 by the Herschell Spillman Company of North Tonawanda, New York, and is one of only two surviving four-row carousels by that company. (The other is at Tilden Park in Berkeley.) Before arriving at Golden Gate Park in 1940, the carousel operated at Lincoln Park in Los Angeles, 1914–1931; Lotus Isle in Portland, 1931–1933; and the Golden Gate International Exposition (World’s Fair) on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, 1939–1940.
When the carousel broke down in 1977, the San Francisco Art Commission offered to help fund its complete restoration. The commission’s choice for the job was Ruby Newman, a young muralist and theater set and costume designer. Heading a team that included a boat restorer from Seattle and a woodcarver born in Austria, Newman mostly completed the restoration by 1984.
Instead of trying to restore the carousel’s original colors, Newman devised a color scheme of her own, but one that still aimed to accent the details of the carvings. The result was a stunning and unique carousel mingling the talents and conceptions of the carvers with the bold vision of a contemporary artist. Newman’s coloring has been mostly maintained throughout a series of touch-up paintings—though not entirely. (At the time of these photos, another artist had recently been called in to make the lion’s eyes less fierce!)
The carousel is the third to operate at this location, its earliest predecessor dating back to 1888, when it was powered by steam. The present pavilion was built in the early 1890s. A 1922 Gebrueder Bruder band organ was installed during Newman’s restoration and is still operational. But music is normally supplied by recordings, because—as a carousel operator there put it—the organ is too loud!