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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Sept. 27, 2023

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In Our View: Carousel possibilities go ’round and ’round

The Columbian

Curses! Now we have an earworm of “Turkey in the Straw” stuck in our heads.

That is what happens when a story about the C.W. Parker Four-Row Park Carousel hits the news. That is what happens when memories of the roundabout that inhabited the Jantzen Beach area for 84 years are brought to mind.

The carousel, once thought lost, is looking for a new home. Restore Oregon, a nonprofit conservation group, on Monday unveiled three proposals for reviving the attraction that entertained generations of youngsters and oldsters in the Vancouver-Portland area. And that brings up the possibility of adding it to the burgeoning Vancouver waterfront or the resurgent downtown area.

“Vancouver is very viable,” Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon, told The Columbian. “There are really exciting things going on. It’s certainly in the running.”

It must be pointed out that local leaders have not expressed any interest in procuring the carousel. But regardless of what the future holds, the carousel has come, um, full circle. Originally built for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, it eventually landed at Jantzen Beach Amusement Park in 1928. It remained there long after the park closed in 1970, standing as a fixture of the shopping center until 2012.

After being dismantled and removed during a renovation of the center, the carousel disappeared. Owners were mum about what happened to it, leading to theories that it had been sold in pieces or sold to a buyer in Japan or placed in a carousel museum.

The truth was revealed in 2017 — the 20-ton behemoth with a 67-foot diameter had been in storage. That is when Restore Oregon officials announced at a press conference that they were seeking a new home for the carousel. A press conference this week provided an update to the story.

It likely is rare that news about a carousel warrants a press conference, let alone two. But such is the role the whirligig has played in the history of the region.

During a time that predated television and other modern entertainments, Jantzen Beach Amusement Park attracted a reported 30 million visitors during its 42-year lifespan. For generations of Clark County residents, the park’s fun house, roller coasters, picnic grounds and multiple swimming pools — located just across the Interstate 5 Bridge — provided the area’s most accessible recreation opportunity. And the carousel was a centerpiece of that.

Ah, carousels! The calliope music and the handcarved horses and the joy of spinning around and around while gently gliding up and down. Few things evoke simple childhood pleasures or the simple days of yore as effectively as a carousel. All of which generates interest in the future of the Jantzen Park merry-go-round.

Restore Oregon officials are looking for an area that has room for the carousel plus a pavilion and is a destination for locals and tourists. “We want something that is going to attract groups, and have space for sponsors, a gift shop and event rentals,” Moretti said.

They also want the area to be accessible by public transit and for the cost of a ride to be affordable — say, $2.50 or $3.

Whether or not that fits into the plans of Vancouver developers remains to be seen, but the thought of a piece of the area’s history becoming part of its future is encouraging. As former Oregon legislator Margaret Carter said: “It’s not only family-friendly, it’s affordable. Restoring Oregon history should be a point of pride for all of us.”

Indeed. But we wish we could get that calliope music out of our heads.