BY TRACY J. PRINCE AND TANYA LYN MARCH
For several months, Oregon’s historic preservationists have been burning up the internet with worry over the future of Jantzen Beach’s spectacular wooden carousel. Activists noticed signs posted at the Jantzen Beach Mall (where the carousel is the main feature in the food court) announcing that the carousel’s last day to operate is April 22, after which it will be crated up and stored, with its future unknown. Blogs were written, a Facebook page was created, and petitions were circulated.
Edens Corp, the owner of the carousel, noticed this online activity and on April 2 posted a press release on the “Friends of Portland’s Wooden Carousels” Facebook page describing the mall’s remodel and the carousel’s restoration. We appreciate Edens Corp’s close attention to the fascinating history of Jantzen Beach-- a once glorious amusement park along the Columbia River. The press release is very respectful. It shows that Edens Corp (a company based in South Carolina) is doing what many national corporations don’t do—educating itself about local issues/history. Edens Corp says that it will name streets after the amusement park’s history. It’s not unlike subdivision developers who name cul de sacs after the types of nature (“Tall Oaks”, “Prairie Glen”) they destroyed there.
We are grateful to Edens Corp for reaching out to Oregon’s preservationist community, for listening, and for showing respect for Portland’s history. This is truly laudable corporate behavior. However, for a month before the press release from Edens Corp, signs were posted at the mall saying that the carousel's future was unknown, and that it would be boxed up and put into storage. After the press release, these signs were taken down. Careful reading of the press release shows that the carousel's future remains uncertain. Currently, none of the development plans show a building that could house a carousel. We encourage those who care about keeping the carousel at Jantzen Beach to let the mall owners know about your enthusiasm.
In 2007 the owners requested that the Jantzen Beach Carousel be de-listed from the National Register of Historic Places. It was restored in Canada in 1995 then moved to a different spot in the Jantzen Beach Super Center, thus negating its site-specific historical designation. The owners then attempted to have it moved to Portland’s Children’s Museum. However, the funding to move the carousel failed to materialize. This was not the first effort to relocate a historic carousel to the Children’s Museum. In 1987 the Perrons, who facilitated the listing of five Portland wooden carousels on the National Register of Historic Places, attempted to place one of their own carousels at the Children’s Museum and failed. They had some limited success placing carousels at the World Forestry Center and inside the Willamette Center. The Perron Family Collection relocated in 1999 to the International Museum of Carousel Art at Hood River which closed in 2010 for relocation. Portland was once on track to be the Carousel Capitol of the World. This summer Portland will only have one remaining historic carousel in operation, because we have sold off our heritage piece by piece.
The carousel’s storage has been described by Jantzen Beach Super Center management as necessary to protect it during remodeling. Staff in the mall office have said that the owner cares about the carousel’s history and would like to keep it at Jantzen Beach after the remodel but that they can’t guarantee it. The carousel was remodeled in 1995. It is possible that the PR the company is trying to generate about "restoring" the carousel is a red herring to divert public panic over the carousel's future. Since the carousel has been indoors since the last remodel, it remains in excellent condition. It would be interesting to know what exactly they are doing to "restore" it. The plans for the super center's remodel, with much of the work already commenced, have never included a site where the carousel could be situated. The press release sounds glowing, but the site plans still do not show a building that could house the carousel. If the carousel remains at Jantzen Beach, it can be relisted on the National Register. Ian Johnson, with Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office, has offered to help the owner with re-listing the Jantzen Beach Carousel.
Built by C.W. Parker in 1921, the spectacular Four-Row Park Carousel is the largest and fastest carousel still operating. The carousel was first in use at Venice Beach Pier, California from 1921 to 1924. Then it was in storage in Long Beach from 1924 to 1927. From 1928 to 1970 the carousel was a prime attraction at Jantzen Beach Amusement Park. After the beloved old amusement park closed, the carousel was moved to the Jantzen Beach Super Center in 1972.
The Jantzen Beach Carousel is the only surviving example of five enormous "superior style" “Carry-Us-Alls” that C.W. Parker made for amusement parks. (The rest of his wooden carousels were smaller, portable, and built for traveling carnivals. Starting in 1925 the C.W. Parker Company switched to cast aluminum for their carousels.) The Jantzen Beach Carousel is widely known for its many elaborately carved and one-of-a-kind horses. Charles Wallace Parker was famous for carving horses that show a lot of personality and movement. The Jantzen Beach Carousel horses are all “jumpers”-- depicted mid-gallop or mid-jump. Of the approximately 1,000 carousels built by the C.W. Parker Company of Leavenworth Kansas, only 16 have survived.
Riding the Jantzen Beach Carousel has been a tradition for generations of families in Oregon and southwest Washington. Many people remember having spent their childhood at the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park. Swimming, dancing, riding the roller coaster, riding the carousel, picnicking, listening to concerts—these were the glory days of Jantzen Beach. In more recent years, many families have happy memories of taking their children to the mall’s food court, where they got the best happy meal prize on the planet—a ride on the Jantzen Beach Carousel.
Anyone can build a nondescript mall, but no one else has the history of Jantzen Beach. And no mall has this incredible specimen of Americana—the Jantzen Beach Carousel. The carousel is the last reminder of a sense of place at Jantzen Beach; the last reminder of the origins of the name.
The final day to ride the carousel is April 22. The owners have said that the rides are free until then. In March, the Jantzen Beach Mall management posted a sign stating: “The long term plans are yet to be determined by the property owner, but the hope is to keep the Carousel on the property or other nearby location.” If you care about keeping the Jantzen Beach Carousel in Portland, call the Jantzen Beach Mall office (503) 286-9103 and tell them. And please join the Facebook group dedicated to preserving this wonderful piece of Portland’s history—Friends of Portland’s Wooden Carousels.
Tracy J. Prince is a Scholar in Residence at PSU’s Portland Center for Public Humanities and the author of Portland’s Goose Hollow. Tanya Lyn March is a historical consultant and the author of historicpreservationclub.blogspot.com