August 18, 2021

Photo Essay: Dormant, Ignored San Jose Carousel Waits Patiently For Riders to Return

I've visited a handful of ill-fated carousels in my day—ones that are in disrepair or threatened with demolition and have survived fire and years in storage. 

But the abandoned ones—ones that still stand, but aren't allowed to run for some reason—really get me. 

When I was in San Jose last weekend, I thought surely I'd be able to find some great carousel—maybe not even a vintage one—in a city of over a million. 

And it's true, there are carousels at the Great America amusement park and at the Happy Hollow Zoo, but the one that really caught my eye was the freestanding one that bears the seal of the now-defunct San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

It's located in Arena Green Park, part of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, where the River Park meets the Los Gatos Creek. 

That sounds great, especially since the park is in a highly trafficked area, tucked behind the SAP Center hockey arena (a.k.a. the "Shark Tank"), where the San Jose Sharks compete.

But not only was the carousel not running—but it hasn't run in recent memory (and not just because of current health concerns). It doesn't even appear on the park website

The Conservancy has said it's because of a lack of funding—and has actually tried to stir up some (financial) interest in the rundown park and specifically the carousel. 

It originally opened in 1998—a boom time for Silicon Valley in the San Jose area, which persisted through Y2K and then went bust in the year 2000. 

The Sharks used to run it—but they never made any money off of it.  

In 2015, the city government allocated funds to clean and repair it and get it up and running—and officials even tossed around the idea of moving it to a different location, maybe even just up river to another part of the River Park.  

Six years later, it's still in its original position—although in 2019, the Conservancy was looking to hire an executive director who could lead the charge on the carousel's relocation. That same year, the Conservancy cracked the gate open during an event so you could see the carousel better. But you still couldn't ride it. 

Also in 2019, Preservation Action Council of San Jose posted that the carousel had been shit down for 19 years for lack of funding—which would mean the carousel only ran for two (or less?) years after first being installed. 

From outside the gate, its menagerie of 33 animals (very few of which are horses) looks like it's in great condition—at least cosmetically. That's probably because nobody's climbing up on the animals or chariots. A worn-out carousel is a well-loved carousel. 

In March 2020, the Conservancy reported that the carousel had been "spruced up" for the coming summer inspections. But that was right at the beginning of pandemic-related lockdowns. 

Meanwhile, it looks like someone set the carousel concession stand on fire. 

The carousel itself is contemporary, so it's not landmarked—making outside the focus of preservation groups. 

But this has been an historic amount of neglect that's kept families from being able to enjoy it. 

Users of online message boards have asked whether the Arena Green carousel is ever open and running. The decisive answer is no. 

But will it even reopen and run again? The clock is still ticking. 

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