December 13, 2017

Photo Essay: A Carousel Horse of a Different Color in San Diego

When my friend and I were planning our overnight visit to San Diego on the Pullman Sleeper train, I had only two "must-see" destinations on my list.

First, I wanted to visit the latest tiki bar to open, False Idol.

And second, I wanted to finally ride the carousel at Seaport Village.

At some point, you might wonder what sets any given carousel apart from all the rest—vintage or contemporary, merry-go-round or menagerie.

But the more I ride, the more faces I see...

...the more creatures I encounter...

...and the more expressions I behold.

This Charles Looff carousel from 1895 is unique not only in its history—having made the rounds from Texas to Santa Monica, the Pacific Northwest, Burbank, and finally to San Diego—but in its particular expression of the master woodcarver's unique "Coney Island" style.

These horses have a lot of different faces—both human and animal—crammed onto the cantles of their saddles.

Not only that, but it's only the white horses that jump—many three astride, rather than all the jumpers being showcased on the outer ring of carousel animals (as was often the tradition in turn-of-the-last-century amusements of this ilk).

Whether you're on a moving or stationary animal, the ride starts out deceptively and unsettlingly slow, begging the question as to the sturdiness of the mechanics.

After all, the interior musical instrumentation—including the band organ—is gone, and its operators have resorted to playing carousel music on CD.

But once this carousel starts going 'round, it really revs up and gives you a wild ride at 25 mph (at least, at its peak).

It's been at Seaport Village now since 2004, but it actually went through a thorough restoration back in 1991, when it was nearly a century old.

Some of the figures look newer than others, but that's likely because the animals in the menagerie are actually something of a hodgepodge.

At some point over the course of time, as the carousel got moved and moved again, its Looff-carved horses and other creatures got jumbled up with those from other manufacturers.

The carousel has since been restored to all-Looff carvings, but not necessarily all the original ones from this particular carousel, created in this particular year.

And while some of the horses are outright labeled as "Out of Order," and others show wear and tear in a range of severity (including their natural horsehair tails, some of which droop lifelessly)... least that means people are still riding the thing and enjoying it.

I'm always suspicious of a car that looks like it's never been driven or cushions that appear to have never provided a seat.

Climb the horse, clutch its ears, pull its tail, bang the drum, sing the songs, grab the ring.

These things are meant to be enjoyed. They won't last forever—but better they succumb to throngs of monstrous children than to fires, storms, or development.

Originally opened in 1980, Seaport Village—like Ports O'Call in San Pedro—is slated for a major makeover at some point in the near future. Local developers have lost interest in vintage—or, "outdated"—attractions.

And that has put the fate of this carousel in jeopardy.

Hopefully, if it does get the axe, its owners and the developers will have the sensitivity to relocate it where more people can enjoy it, rather than dismantling it and selling off its individual parts.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Taking a Spin Into the Last Century in Balboa Park
Photo Essay: The 100 Year-Old Herschell 3-Abreast Carousel, Santa Barbara
Photo Essay: The Faces of The Santa Monica Pier Carousel
Photo Essay: Wayward Carousel Horses & Other Creatures

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