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New home for venerable steeds at San Francisco's carousel museum.

New home for venerable steeds at San Francisco's carousel museum They led hard lives, the wooden beasts of the carousel. Wear and tear from years of roughhousing riders exacted its toll. And times grew tougher when carousels began to fade from fashion and many were broken up and sold in parts, or just allowed to rot.

Today carousels made between the 1870s and the 1930s are regarded as works of art. But while some 3,000 were in operation in their 19th-century heyday, only about 200 remain today. And only determined efforts halted their complete decline. Happily, the American Carousel Museum in San Francisco has devoted itself to preserving this art. And in the Bay Area, nine carousels (see page 68) still turn for riders.

Funded privately by the Freels Foundation, the museum sketches a history of the carousel with drawings, photographs, and early European animals. Throughout the gallery are some 72 carved figures (most are horses) plus regalia--a big band organ, rounding boards with fanciful paintings, chariot sides with heroic carving.

Nearly, all these animals have been restored, but some have been left unpainted to reveal the beautiful wood (poplar and basswood were used most often) and the artist's style. You'll see how animals were built--hand-carved, sometimes in up to 50 pieces, with hollow bodies. Notice that on each the "romance," or outer side, has more decorative carving.

Look for the "lead" horses-each the showiest, most decorated horse on its own carousel. Equally impressive are the heavy, muscular lions and tigers which rode only the costliest machines.

Works from major American carousel makers are exhibited, with notes on the stylistic traits of each. Some details to notice as you walk through the museum:

C.W. Parker made small, sleek horses, often used on portable machines; look for the Parker name stamped on iron horseshoes.

Dentzel Company horses often have eagle heads on the saddle cantles; its menagerie figures (cats, pigs, rabbits) wear friendly expressions. Many Dentzel carousels had signature "Cerni figures"--cherubs and clowns carved next to the saddles.

Herschell-Spillman produced, besides horses, some unusual menagerie animals--frogs, goats, storks, deer, and more; ou can often tell a Herschell-Spillman figure by its eyes--carved wood instead of glass.

Looff horses sport fancy armor with elegant drapery, glass jewels.

Philadelphia Toboggan Company's horses are muscular and flamboyant, with ornate trappings, often drawn from medieval themes.

In the back of the museum, you can watch restoration tasks being done by craftsmen, including Maurice Fraley, in a glass-walled workshop (their hours vary). You'll also find a small gift shop.

The museum is at 633 Beach Street (near Hyde); hours are 10 to 5 daily. Admission is $2, $1 ages 12 through 17 and seniors.

Nine Bay Area merry-go-rounds to ride

Berkeley. Tilden Regional Park, off Grizzly Peak Boulevard, has a beautifully restored 1911 Herschell-Spillman (50 cents a ride), one of the few four-row carousels left. It has 59 animals, including a dragon. Two band organs play on Sundays, including a big 66-key gem (a red-jacketed conductor waves a baton). The park has plenty of grassy picnicking spots. The carousel is open 10 to 5 weekends, Easter week, and summer.

Hayward. In John F. Kennedy Park, off Hesperian Boulevard just north of West A Street, is a small aluminum Alan Herschell machine from about 1950 (60 cents). Just restored, its 40 small horses are of cast metal. The carousel runs 11 to 4:30 weekends, Easter week, summer.

Monterey. Cannery Row, at 640 wave Street, has a 1905 Herschell-Spillman (65 cents) with 36 animals, including two zebras, and two unusual chariots (one shows an elaborate King Neptune with a fierce sea serpent; the other features a duck). All animals but the zebras are tailless. You can ride 11 to 11 daily, until 1 A.M. Fridays and Saturdays.

San Francisco. In Golden Gate Park, the playground east of Bowling Green Drive has a 1912 Herschell-Spillman ($1, 25 cents ages 6 through 12) that's been restored after a seven-year layoff. It has 62 animals (including 40 jumpers), 2 chariots, and a spinning tub. Watch for a stork with a carved baby on its back. The rounding board overhead features local scenes such as Coit Tower and the Bay. You ride to a powerful 1920s Gebruder band organ. It's open 10 to 4 Wednesdays through Sundays. Pier 39 has a fiberglass replica of a double-decker Venetian carousel from the turn of the century ($1). its 42 horses rock and jump, two gondolas rock, and overhead panels depict Italian landscapes. This one operates 10:30 to 9 Mondays through Thursdays, 9:30 to 11 Fridays and Saturdays, 9:30 to 10 Sundays.

The San Francisco Zoo, at Sloat Boulevard and 45th Avenue, has a beautifully restored 1921 Dentzel menagerie carousel (75 cents), with 52 animals--including leaping rabbits, a fine lion, and a wily cat with a fish in its mouth. Hours are 10:30 to 4:30 weekdays, 10:30 to 5 weekends. Zoo admission is $4, $1 seniors, free ages 15 and under accompanied by an adult.

Santa Clara. Great America, off U.S. 101 at Great American Parkway, has a spectacular fiberglass double-decker carousel with 106 replicas of Dentzel, Parker, and PTC classics. It has 82 jumping horses, dragons, seahorses, and more. Three chariots all have patriotic themes. The park also has a 48-horse 1918 Philadelphia Toboggan Company machine with a band organ. Park hours are 10 to 8 weekends, daily Easter week and summer. General admission is $15.95, $9.95 seniors, $7.95 ages 3 through 6.

Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has the biggest antique carousel in northern California ($1.05), with 70 horses, all but two of them jumpers, plus two chariots and a mighty 342-pipe band organ built in 1894 (also renovated). Restoration on the magnificent 1911 Looff machine is impressive, though not yet complete. It's open Boardwalk hours, 11 to 6 weekends and Easter week, longer hours daily in summer.
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Title Annotation:American Carousel Museum
Article Type:Directory
Date:Mar 1, 1988
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