If you hear the sound of happy children laughing and cheering, it’s because the historic carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens is now back in operation, fully restored with gleaming jewel-studded horses, giraffes and camels. It even has a new name. Located adjacent to the Children’s Creativity Museum, the 108-year-old carousel was closed last September for a complete overhaul and reopened in May.
A community celebration marked the carousel re-opening. There were free rides, entertainment and a ceremony christening it in honor of LeRoy King, 90, a San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commissioner for 32 years until 2012. King played a major role in the development of Yerba Buena Gardens parks and attractions.
This carousel was conceptualized and hand-carved by craftsman Charles Looff in 1906, and in 1912 it eventually found its way to San Francisco. After extensive refurbishing, it was sent to Long Beach’s Shoreline Village near the Queen Mary where it was a huge hit for southern Californians from 1982 until 1998, when the former San Francisco Redevelopment Agency purchased it for $1 million and installed it in a beautiful glass pavilion at Yerba Buena Gardens. Over the years, the carousel has been praised for its exquisite detailing and craftsmanship — critics from all over the planet have called it a masterpiece and a piece of moving art.
The $350,000 restoration of the LeRoy King Carousel required a meticulous disassembling and rebuilding of the entire ride, as well as creating new parts to replace several century-old components that are no longer available. The renewed carousel has new flooring made of machiche wood, horsehair tails for the equine characters, brass poles, and sparkling jewels that provide added bling for the animals.
Marvin Gold operated the carousel back in 1968 while working at Playland and today many refer to him as the ride’s historian. “I was 15 years old when I was hired to run the carousel,” Gold said. “I lived right down the street from Playland and it was a great job for a teenage kid. Technically, it’s a merry-go-round and not a carousel, because by definition a carousel consists of only horses and this one contains giraffes, camels and rams. I enjoyed working at Playland for several years until they closed it in 1972. At the end, I was making $1.75 per hour, which seemed like a lot at the time.”
Yerba Buena Garden’s incredible Children’s Creativity Museum operates the carousel on behalf of the City’s Office of Civic Investment and Infrastructure, the former Redevelopment Agency. Daily operations and maintenance of the carousel are provided by the MJM Management Group. It’s open every day from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Enjoy this treasure. It’s a round-and round-trip that creates a lifetime of memories. Just ask LeRoy King, who took his future wife on their first date on the carousel that now bears his name.
By: Edmund Attanasio