The Jantzen Beach Carousel might be back, but don’t expect to take a ride any time soon.
Instead, pieces of the beloved Portland carousel will be on display at the Oregon Historical Society for a new exhibit called “The Odyssey of the Historic Jantzen Beach Carousel,” on view now through April 30, 2023.
It marks the latest episode in a long saga for the troubled carousel, which lived on a pier, in an amusement park, at a shopping mall and finally a storage facility before being donated to local nonprofit Restore Oregon in 2017.
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Some Portlanders may be loathe to discover that the carousel (like so many others) is, in fact, a California transplant. According to Restore Oregon, the carousel was first commissioned in 1921 for the pier in Venice, California, and made its way to Portland in 1928 for the recently opened Jantzen Beach Amusement Park on Hayden Island.
The sprawling amusement park quickly became one of the most popular destinations in Oregon, seeing as many as 725,000 visitors annually at the peak of its popularity. But crowds thinned throughout the 1960s, and in 1970 the park was demolished, replaced with a 500,000 square-foot shopping mall.
Whether giving a nod to the past or appeasing fans of the bygone amusement park, owners of the mall held onto the carousel, showcasing it on the ground floor for all to see. It stayed there until 1995, when developers came knocking once again. A group of Jantzen Beach employees, local politicians and community members raised funds to save and restore the carousel, which was relocated to a new pavilion by the mall’s food court, which was to be yet another temporary home.
In 2012, the carousel was moved to a storage facility in anticipation of a $50 million remodel of the Jantzen Beach Center, which never came to fruition. There it stayed until 2017 when it was donated to Restore Oregon, which still owns it today.
The new exhibit at Oregon Historical Society will not feature a fully restored carousel. Instead, the interactive exhibit will show off restored pieces of the beloved attraction, offering visitors a more detailed look at its history in Portland.
Restore Oregon said the exhibit would “allow the public to reconnect with this treasured piece of local history,” but offered no news about when or whether people will ever be able to ride the carousel again.
“We are equally thrilled to share a behind-the-scenes look at the historic preservation process, and to celebrate the work of our talented team of artisans,” Stephanie Brown, a project manager in charge of the carousel at Restore Oregon, said in a news release. “Our hope is that all who visit this exhibition, whether they already love the Jantzen Beach Carousel or are discovering it for the first time, will enjoy this chance to learn about its history, craftsmanship, and the special place it holds in the hearts of generations of Pacific Northwesterners.”
The Oregon Historical Society is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland; 503-222-1741; admission is free for Multnomah County residents, $10 for adults, $8 for students, teachers and seniors, $5 for kids.
— Jamie Hale
503-294-4077; firstname.lastname@example.org; @HaleJamesB
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