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San Francisco Carousels

San Francisco Carousels

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San Francisco has a lot of interesting historical sights for a visitor to see. Victorian homes, Ghirardelli Square, and cables cars are among the most well known. But beyond that, there are many smaller attractions throughout the city that are interesting as well. One group of these attractions is the set of carousels (or merry-go-rounds) that are located at various locations around the city.

There are four main carousels in San Francisco. They range in age from only two years old, to one that is nearly one hundred years old. All are in very good shape, and are surrounded by some very enjoyable family attractions.

A Brief History of Carousels

The earliest known record of a carousel comes from a Byzantine etching dating from 500AD. In it, people rode in baskets attached to a center pole. The origin of the word "carousel" itself derives from the Italian word "garosello" and the Spanish word "carosella" which both mean "little war," and was used to describe a game that crusaders saw Middle Eastern horsemen playing with real horses and lances in the twelfth century.

The crusaders brought this game back to Europe, where it spread to various countries, including France. The French altered the name of the game to "carrousel." Around 1680, the game became mechanized and was powered by a horse or mule. Through the years, additions and modifications were made, such as multiple rows of figures, different types of animals, decorations, as well as musical accompaniment.

Public demand for carousels rose steadily in both Europe and America, exploding in the years of 1900 to 1930, until the Great Depression ended the building of lavish carousels. Three of San Francisco's four carousels date from this period.

Yerba Buena Gardens

The oldest carousel in the city, built in 1906, was placed in Yerba Buena Gardens in 1998. Although it's only been in its current location for a few years, this carousel has a long history in San Francisco. Built by Charles I.D. Looff in Rhode Island, it is considered a masterpiece of American art.

The carousel was originally placed in the Playland At The Beach amusement park next to the Cliff House at Ocean Beach and stayed there from 1912 to 1972, when the amusement park closed. For a few years following that, the carousel ran next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. In 1998, it was extensively restored and place in a beautiful glass pavilion at Yerba Buena Gardens. The carousel is one of the few left which feature a large menagerie of animals including giraffes, camels, rams, as well as jumping horses and gilded chariots.

In addition to the carousel, Yerba Buena Gardens has many other terrific activities for families to enjoy. These include an ice-skating and bowling center, gardens, the Zeum children's museum, and gardens. For information, call 415-777-2800 or go to www.zeum.org on the web.

Golden Gate Park

The Herschell-Spillman Company near Buffalo, New York built the Golden Gate Park carousel in 1912. The ride had several different homes before coming to San Francisco for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939. After the fair closed, the carousel was moved to its current location in 1941. The location is also home to the park's Children's Playground, which has swings, slides, and gymnastic equipment of all types.

Golden Gate Park is an absolute treasure to the people of San Francisco. In addition to the carousel and Children's Playground, there is the Strybing Arboretum, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of flowers, as well as several museums and other offerings.

For information about the carousel, call 415-812-2725. It is open every day in the summer, and the last ride is at 4:15 PM.

San Francisco Zoo

William H. Dentzel constructed the San Francisco Zoo carousel in 1921. It was placed at the current site of the zoo in 1925, after a four-year stint at the Pacific City Amusement Park in San Mateo. The zoo itself didn't officially open at its current site until 1929.

This historic carousel was last renovated in 2002, at which time the 52 animals were restored to their original. Each animal took over 1,000 hours to restore.

In addition to the carousel, the zoo offers a tram tour and a miniature train ride. The train ride also was originally from Pacific City Park, and was built by the Cagney Brothers between 1904 and 1907. It was moved to the zoo in 1920, where it ran until 1976, and was restored in 1998.

The zoo has been undergoing an extensive renovation itself, with the latest addition to the zoo being the Africa Savannah section where different types of animals roam freely in a large enclosure, more closely simulating their natural habitat.

The zoo can be contacted at 415-753-7080, or you can visit www.sfzoo.org.

Pier 39

The newest carousel in San Francisco came to Pier 39 in 2002. Made by the Bertazzon Company in Italy, it is the only carousel that has artistic renderings of its home city. Some of the artwork to be found on the carousel include the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Alcatraz and Lombard Street. The carousel which seats 50 people features horses, chariots, tubs, and swings.

Pier 39 is the single most popular attraction in San Francisco. It has over 110 stores, 13 restaurants, and other amusements such as the famous sea lions, arcades and the Aquarium of the Bay.

For information about Pier 39, call 415-705-5500, or go to www.pier39.com.

Outside San Francisco

In addition to the carousels listed above Tilden Park in Berkeley offers another Spillman carousel built in 1906. It has also recently been renovated. During Christmas season, a nightly "Christmas Fantasy" holiday spectacular is offered nightly.

Tilden Park is worth a visit if you are in the area. In addition to the carousel, there are pony rides, miniature trains, and a botanic garden.

The carousel is located on Wildcat Canyon Road in Tilden Park. For more information call 510-524-6773 or go to www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden.htm .

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  • Regarding San Francisco's Carousels, they are splendid indeed.

    All of them were restored by Brass Ring Entertainment.

    B.R.E. recently restored a certain carousel at a place called


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