A veritable still life zoo, the Leroy King Carousel in San Francisco’s Children’s Museum has been giving rides to delighted children and adults alike for over 100 years.
Still operational, it has more than just the common carousel horse: leaping giraffes, ornamented camels, majestic rams in mid run, gilded chariots decorated with elaborate dragons, snakes, and gargoyles. Even the horses are remarkable, each one unique in its design and decorations. But perhaps even more remarkable then the animals which make up the carousel is its storied and well traveled history.
Constructed in 1906 by master carver and builder Charles I. D. Looff (who built the first carousel at Coney Island in 1876, and went on to manufacture over 50 carousels throughout his life, in addition to California’s Santa Monica Pier), it was originally to be placed in San Francisco, but the 1906 fires and Earthquake caused it to be installed at the Luna Park in Seattle, Washington instead. Miraculously it was the only attraction to survive the 1911 Luna Park fire, and in 1913 moved again to its original destination of San Francisco. Installed at the ocean side amusement park Playland-at-the-Beach, where it remained until the close of the park in 1972.
It was then purchased by a private collector and held in Roswell, New Mexico until 1983, when it was transported back to California, set up by Marianne Stevens in Shoreline Village, Long Beach. The City of San Francisco finally purchased the carousel from Ms. Stevens in 1998 and returned it, fully restored and operational, to its current location at Zeum in the Yerba Buena Gardens.
Charles I.D. Looff was the father of the unique Coney Island style of carousel carving, catering and contributing to the vaudeville style attractions that were steadily growing more popular in the early nineteenth century.
Classic circus music plays cheerfully during the 2 for $3 rides, complimenting the character of the carousel. The animals reflect this bright, fanciful, carnival style. Horses are suited up in a saddle and blanket unique to themselves, gem studded with colorful patterns. Real horse hair tails and further elaborate designs adorn each piece. The camels, giraffes, and rams are equally magnificent and lustrous, fine attention to detail in both original and restored carving and painting evident.
The Leroy King Carousel is a wonderfully well preserved and restored historical ride, hearkening back to a time when everything was new and exciting, and amusement park rides such as these were as much marveled inventions as they were public entertainment.
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