Playland Merry-go-Round Opens
October 17, 1998!

The Playland Merry-go-Round opening at Yerba Buena Gardens has been accomplished through the hard work of "Zeum". Zeum is an interdisciplinary arts center where young people can explore and produce visual, performing and media arts using technology as a creative tool. Zeumís mission is to foster the creativity of young people of all backgrounds by:

  • Providing a hands-on, participatory environment for youth arts expression

  • Creating opportunities for collaboration among young people, artists, educators and partner organizations

  • Integrating the arts into the classroom curriculum.

    Rooftop includes a regulation-sized ice skating rink, bowling center, child care center and the historic carousel from Playland-at-the-Beach ≠ all surrounding a beautiful play and learning garden ideal for picnics and outdoor performances. The Rooftop is a $56 million dollar project of the Redevelopment Agency of San Francisco and is funded by Agency bonds repaid by lease revenues.

  • Merry-go-Round at Playland

    Special thanks to the Examiner for permission to post photographs and articles.

    Jan 26, 1998
    Playland carousel coming back
    Rachel Gordon

    Much-loved antique being dismantled in
    Long Beach for its journey to The City

    LONG BEACH - What goes around comes around.

    After spending the past quarter-century exiled in Southern California and New Mexico, the historic Charles Looff carousel that delighted generations of San Franciscans at Playland at the Beach is coming home.

    By early June, the 92-year-old carousel should once again be spinning in The City, this time as the star attraction at the Children's Center in Yerba Buena Gardens, which is nearly complete.

    Two weeks ago, the amusement ride - considered one of the finest crafted of the 75 full-sized merry-go-rounds left in the United States - was up and running. Today it lies in hundreds of pieces on a dusty floor at a waterfront shopping center-cum-tourist trap in Long Beach.

    A three-person crew has been dismantling the carousel by hand, readying it for a freeway voyage north aboard two 45-foot tractor-trailer rigs.

    The carousel is made up of some three dozen mirrors, more than 100 twisted brass poles, two dragon chariots, two gondolas the size of Volkswagen Beetles and 64 animal figures - horses, rams, camels, giraffes and one ferocious-looking lion. Each figure, brightly painted and adorned with cut glass "jewels" from Belgium, is different.

    "It's a big jigsaw puzzle," said Becky Rustuen, as she dumped a handful of greasy bolts into an old coffee can. "Taking it apart is one thing. We have to make sure we know how to put it back together."

    The workers mapped and marked each piece to make the two-month reassembly easier. It will be spruced up after it's back together.

    "This is no quick job," said 43-year-old Scott Ringwelski, who is overseeing the project.

    Wooden figures very fragile.

    "You drop one of these things," he added, struggling to lift a horse off the base with the help of Rustuen and Paul Rosse, "and it will shatter."

    The hollow wooden animals each weigh from 80 to 175 pounds. The gondolas, at least, can be removed in sections.

    The capper job comes this week, when a crane will be brought in to move the 27-foot-high center pole - formerly a piece of oil pipeline - that with the help of an intricate set of thin girders suspends everything above the floor. The hanging carousel can carry 12 tons of people. A 12-horsepower motor keeps it running at 8 mph.

    After the carousel's last public twirl in Long Beach following a 14-year run, Ringwelski hopped on for a final ride there.

    "As I laid my head against the horse, I could hear the machinery running through, like a heartbeat, like it's alive and has a soul," he said.

    Every animal on the ride has a name and, the caretakers believe, a distinct personality.

    Ringwelski, who has been associated with the carousel for 17 years, describes himself as "the guardian of the treasure." He will leave his lifelong home of Long Beach to move with the carousel and care for it at Yerba Buena Gardens. He's also talking with the Recreation and Park Department to see about looking after The City's two other merry-go-rounds, located at the zoo and the Children's Playground in Golden Gate Park.

    With three full-sized carousels, San Francisco will have the second-largest collection in the nation, following New York City which has five.

    Snagging the carousel for Yerba Buena Gardens was no easy feat - and did not come cheap. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, which is in charge of the project, bought it for $1million from Marianne Stevens, a Roswell, N.M., collector who saved it from destruction after Playland closed in 1972. Plans called for auctioning the carousel animals separately, drawing on a growing demand in the art world for the finely made folk art. But Stevens, whose father also collected carousels, came in at the last minute and bought the carousel for $67,000.

    It wasn't the first time the ride survived against the odds.

    Built by renowned carousel-maker Charles Looff in his Rhode Island workshop in 1906, the carousel originally was intended for San Francisco, but lack of interest in The City resulted in its going to a Seattle amusement park instead, via a boat ride around Tierra del Fuego. A year later, a fire destroyed everything in the amusement park but the carousel - sparking its eventual move to San Francisco.

    In 1913, Arthur Looff, whose dad built the carousel, moved it to the seaside site that would become Playland at the Beach. It remained there until the park closed six decades later. After 10 years in storage in New Mexico, a period during which Ringwelski said it became a favored haunt for mice, rats and roaches and fell into disrepair, Stevens found it a new life in Long Beach. In 1994, San Francisco officials, with money in hand, came calling and struck a deal. Now, nearly four years later, everything's coming together.

    Midge Mallen, a 61-year-old fourth-generation San Franciscan, welcomes the return.

    "It was wonderful. It felt like an adventure," recalled Mallen, who rode the carousel when she was a child. "When you were on there, you just had a feeling you were riding a real horse."

    Ringwelski said igniting the imagination is what makes the carousel - with exotic carvings borrowing from ancient images of Arabia, Africa and the Ottoman Empire - so magical.

    "It's a 10-ton behemoth that can carry you away to any place you want to be," he said.

    Mallen regularly took her nine children to Playland to ride the carousel, eat candied apples and laugh and scream in the fun house. Now she's looking forward to returning to the carousel, albeit in a new location across town, with her grandchildren.

    "I can share the history with them," she said.

    It is partially for that reason that Supervisor Sue Bierman fought so hard to bring the carousel back to San Francisco.

    A planning commissioner at the time Yerba Buena Gardens was being planned, Bierman and some cohorts wanted to create a place that would have fun things to do for children and families. At first they considered a Ferris wheel.

    ©1998 San Francisco Examiner

    Original S.F. location Playland Merry-go-round, Photographs by Shirley Leytem 1972

    Nov 20, 1994

    Old Playland merry-go-round is repaired
    and will move to The City in '96
    (It will actually arrive June of 98.)
    by Gerald D. Adams/ Examiner Urban Planning Writer

    Carousel is Ready To Roll

    The old Playland merry-go-round, which San Francisco officials arranged to aquire from a Long Beach shopping center in September, has been repainted and refurbished and will continue to twirl in the Southland until the children's block of Yerba Buena Gardens is ready to receive it in 1996.

    The classic 91-year-old carousel had been so neglected in recent years that some of its horses' tails had fallen off.

    Two months ago, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency announced The City had bought it and would have it returned this month for storage in a bonded warehouse until the children's project is ready for its installation.

    But Yerba Buena Center Project Director Helen Sause says the tails have been restored and other repairs made in Long Beach, and that The City now feels safe leaving the carousel there for the next year or so.

    Sause said she had visited the Shoreline Village mall in Long Beach several days ago and was "extremely pleased to see the improvements. The previously deplorable conditions of the animals and enclosure have been completely addressed by a new operator."

    After the owner of Shoreline Village declared bankrupcy in September, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. became trustee of the mall and has provided "excellent care, maintenance and operation of the carousel," according to Sause.

    Long Beach initially fought to keep the carousel there, but Sause said she has received assurance that Long Beach would "take no action whatsoever to retain it whenever the agency wished to remove it."

    Northwestern is paying The City $5,000 a month to rent the merry-go-round, under a lease that expires next September but could be extended on a month-to-month basis.

    "We believe that this is a winning solution for the carousel until the agency might conceivably wish to have it physically in San Francisco," Sause wrote in a report to be presented to the Redevelopment Commission Tuesday.

    Although Long Beach had bid $500,000 more for the carousel than San Francisco did, owner Marianne Stevens of Santa Fe agreed to sell it to The City for $1 million because she was so upset at the damage it had suffered in Southern California.
    The carousel was hand-carved in Riverside, R.I., by amusement park builder Charles I.D. Looff in 1903.

    It was first installed at Luna Park in Seattle in 1903, but when the park was destroyed by fire six years later, Looff rebuilt it in a pavilion at Playland-at-the Beach in 1913.

    Before Playland was razed to make way for a condominium project in 1972, the merry-go-round sold for $62,500 to the Long Beach shopping center operator.

    * * *

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