The quest to save Portland’s historic Jantzen Beach Carousel

Restore Oregon has put together a complete restoration plan for the century-old treasure — now it just needs someone to take it on... but time is running out.

A black and white image of a large carousel.

The Jantzen Beach Carousel in the yard outside the C.W. Parker Amusement Company in Leavenworth, KS.

Photo by C.W. Parker Archives, Barbara Fahs Charles collection

Watching the world spin by from the back of an ornately carved and painted animal, bathed in the warm glow of incandescent bulbs, is a cherished experience for kids and adults alike. In Portland, one particular carousel delighted people for decades — but it’s now in dire need of a new owner.

The Jantzen Beach Carousel was built in 1921 by the C.W. Parker Amusement Company. It debuted on a Southern California pier before making its way to Oregon, opening in 1928 at the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park on Hayden Island.

The park closed in 1970 and the carousel moved into the shopping mall that took its place. There it remained until development plans forced it to move into storage in 2012. Five years later, the carousel was donated to local nonprofit Restore Oregon.

Two carousel horses are in a room. A person leans over one of them with a paintbrush.

Painter Cora Finney works on one of the carousel’s “pelted” horses.

Photo by Stephanie Brown, Restore Oregon director of carousel planning and education

As its temporary steward, Restore Oregon has charted a preservation roadmap for the carousel’s full restoration, which is to be completed by a future owner. It’s a hefty undertaking: The wooden carousel measures 28 ft tall and nearly 67 ft across, weighs 20 tons, and features two chariots and four rows of 72 horses — along with 10 additional spare horses.

Stephanie Brown, Restore Oregon’s director of carousel planning and education, said the organization estimates the work will cost at least $4 million. Some of the cost could be offset through community partnerships (Miller Paint, for example, donated paint during the preservation testing phase) and in-kind donations of products, services, and even labor.

But the payout could be huge. As Restore Oregon’s webpage states, restoring the carousel and providing it a permanent home would “save a treasured piece of local history and create a new landmark with the potential to become as representative of the Pacific Northwest as food trucks, beer, and artisan coffee.”

A design rendering shows a carousel in an outdoor pavilion surrounded by people and city buildings along a waterfront area.

In an urban or suburban setting, the carousel could be a focal point for the community.

Rendering by PLACE via Restore Oregon

If a new owner isn’t found by Restore Oregon’s Sept. 15 deadline, the carousel may have to leave the state.

You can learn more about the Jantzen Beach Carousel and the restoration planning work (and see four of its horses) when the Oregon Historical Society reopens its “The Odyssey of the Historic Jantzen Beach Carousel” exhibit this summer.

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