PORTLAND — The bejeweled wooden horses of the Jantzen Beach Carousel delighted children for eight decades on Hayden Island, first as part of an amusement park, then as a shopping mall attraction.
Progress swept the carousel out in 2012. Jantzen Beach Center’s evolution into a collection of big-box stores led it to dismantle the carousel and demolish the pavilion that housed it. Fans feared the carousel was gone for good.
Then, in 2017, the shopping center’s owners donated the carousel to Restore Oregon. In 2020, the nonprofit historic preservation group and its volunteers unpacked the herd to assess what it would take to return the carousel to its former glory.
An exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society illustrates how difficult that project will be. “The Odyssey of the Historic Jantzen Beach Carousel” is on view through April. You won’t see the full carousel (or get to ride it) but you can see four of its horses — two fully restored, one in progress, and one yet to be fixed.
C.W. Parker Amusement Co. of Leavenworth, Kan., built the carousel and shipped it to the West Coast in 1921. The carousel spent time in Venice, Calif., before becoming a part of the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park when it opened in 1928.
The 123-acre park — the largest in the United States at that time — featured four swimming pools, the Big Dipper roller coaster and a Ferris wheel, as well as the carousel.
The park closed in 1970. When the Jantzen Beach shopping mall opened in 1972, it incorporated the carousel, the only surviving ride from the amusement park.
The carousel is 28 feet tall at its highest point and 66 feet wide. It weighs 20 tons. And when it spins, 72 horses — four abreast — gallop up and down, round and round. The carousel is the only remaining of four “superior park” models built by C.W. Parker.
Vancouver briefly had hopes of becoming home to the carousel after its renovation. But in February 2020, Restore Oregon announced that it had selected the Portland Diamond Project, which is working to land a Major League Baseball team for the city, to house the carousel in a pavilion at its planned ballpark.
It’s hard to say how long full restoration of the carousel will take, said Stephanie Brown, project manager at Restore Oregon. At the exhibit, visitors can see why one particularly decayed horse took a carver nine months to refurbish.