In Our View: Full Circle on Carousel Tale

Jantzen Beach icon coming around again in delightful conclusion to mystery

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It is not often that the end of a mystery leaves you with an earworm of calliope music. But that is what happens when the lengthy riddle of the Jantzen Beach Carousel comes to an end.

Ah, carousels! The circus tunes and the hand-carved horses and the joy of spinning around and around while gently gliding up and down. Few things evoke simple childhood pleasures or simple days of yore as effectively as a carousel — and for generations of Clark County residents, that means memories of Jantzen Beach.

From 1928 to 1970, the C.W. Parker Four-Row Park Carousel was a centerpiece of an amusement park just across the Columbia River from Vancouver, a park affectionately known as “The Coney Island of the West.” Equipped with a fun house, a roller coaster and four swimming pools, the park created years of memories for residents throughout the area. According to a history of the park, more than 30 million visitors attended during its 42 years of operation.

When the park closed and a shopping center took its place in 1972, the carousel remained a popular attraction. And then it disappeared. During an extensive remodeling of the center in 2012, the carousel was dismantled and placed in storage, with management promising to eventually bring it back. When it never reappeared, the mystery deepened.

Mysteries, of course, provide fertile soil for the growth of conspiracy theories, and stories were repeated with certitude that the merry-go-round had been sold in pieces, sold to a buyer in Japan, placed in a carousel museum, or purchased by Paul Allen for his personal use on a private island in the Pacific. OK, we made up that last one; nobody suggested that. But theories about the carousel were more prevalent than facts about its whereabouts.

Until recently. On Sept. 7, nonprofit organization Restore Oregon announced that it had acquired the carousel, which has been sitting in storage for the past five years while the previous owners remained tight-lipped about its whereabouts. “We have here a wonderful opportunity to make more memories for generations to come,” Restore Oregon Executive Director Peggy Moretti said at a press conference.

Yes, news about the Jantzen Beach Carousel warranted a press conference. Cue the calliope.

While the roundabout — which weighs 20 tons and has a diameter of 67 feet — has been located, its future is uncertain. Restore Oregon officials are hoping to find a new home for it and have created a committee to consider proposals. Among the criteria: The new site needs to be in the Portland metropolitan area in a well-trafficked location and be publicly accessible; the carousel must be operational year-round and cost no more than a few dollars per ride; and it must be housed indoors, safe from the elements.

“We want to get people thinking,” Moretti said, “where should this go? Where is the right area?”

While the carousel would be a worthy addition to the transformation taking place in downtown Vancouver and along the city’s waterfront, it’s unlikely the Washington side of the river could provide the right area for it. Developers of local projects thus far have expressed little interest in procuring it.

That is OK. For now, we shall be content in the knowledge that someday a much-loved Portland icon will be returned to the people and make new memories for new generations. That is cause for celebration — even if we have “Turkey in the Straw” stuck in our heads.