Amusement parks hold timeless memories, and the carousel is the classic centerpiece. The Forest Park Carousel is situated near other memorable Forest Park destinations, such as the bridal path, tennis courts, the George Seuffert Sr. Bandshell, and the golf course.
The carousel was awarded a place on the State and National Register of Historic Places in July 2004. However, community groups, residents, and elected officials have called for the Forest Park Carousel to be name a landmark by the city for nearly 20 years, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) often rejected their bids.
Now the public’s voice will finally be heard. On June 11 at 9:30 a.m., the LPC will hold a public hearing at 1 Centre St, and testimony can be delivered in person or in writing. Sometime thereafter, the panel of commissioners will vote on whether to grant landmark status.
“We have been considering the carousel since 2011,” said LPC Communications Director Lisi de Bourbon. “There are two other carousels that are landmarked by virtue of being located within scenic parks, which are the Central Park Carousel (designated 1974) and the Prospect Park Carousel (designated 1975).”
“The Parks Department supports the commission’s request to bring this rare carousel forward to a hearing,” said John Krawchuk, director of Historic Preservation for the department.
The Forest Park Carousel, also known as the Muller Carousel, was named after its foremost carver, Daniel Carl Muller of the D.C. Muller & Brother Company. This American wooden carousel first operated in the Lakeview Amusement Park in Dracut, MA, in 1903.
William H. Dentzel was renowned in carousel manufacturing, and created this carousel’s frame in 1890. When Forest Park’s original carousel (1918) succumbed to a fire in 1966, the disassembled Muller Carousel that was in the collection of Victor Christ-Janer, was either sold or donated to the City of New York for its installation in Forest park in 1973. However, not much is known of the carousel’s early history.
“The Parks Department is hoping the LPC’s research staff will develop a more thorough report, which would be advantageous to the Parks Department and the public to better appreciate this treasure,” said Krawchuk.
Muller carved figures for 12 carousels, and the Forest Park Carousel is one of two Muller carousels in operation today. The carousel has 49 horses, a tiger, a lion, a deer, and two chariots, as well as an authentic Ruth & Sohn band organ.
“The Forest Park Carousel is an artifact that bedazzles the eye, and how appropriate to have wildlife-themed figures in a forested setting,” said Krawchuk. “It speaks to the importance of Forest Park as a flagship park, and harkens back to an era when carousels were very much part of a public park experience, emphasizing a happy and care-free experience.”
The carousel’s figures were created in the Philadelphia style, which is more realistic, in contrast to some carousels’ exaggerated colors and poses, according to Krawchuk.
In 1988, the carousel underwent a restoration, but as it faced a turnover of operators throughout the years, it often fell into disrepair. In 2009, it was abandoned by its short-lived operator. Then the Parks Department secured a more responsible operator, NY Carousel, which is committed to a decade-long restoration.
It reopened on Memorial Day weekend in 2012. Today, clown and magic shows have become a Saturday and holiday tradition, and now Director Ami Abramson envisions adding more rides.
“The Jewel of Forest Park” was coined by Maria Thomson, who led the carousel’s landmarking initiative for 2 decades despite the LPC’s resistance. “I’m ecstatic,” said Thomson, who serves as executive director of the Woodhaven BID and Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation. She thanked Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley for being a major landmarking supporter.
As a 45-year Woodhaven resident, Thomson lives in her husband’s family home of over a century.
“When we got married, he first introduced me to the carousel and I loved it,” she said. “It was a wondrous location for many young families, and also offered a pony ride and a train ride.”
Thomson envisions collaborating with NY Carousel to coordinate events, such as children’s parties, cocktail parties, fundraisers, and author presentations.
“I am trying to attract the interests of Sony and other companies to film there, and would also like to see fashion shoots,” she said. “Buses can transport tourists, and a restaurant surrounding the carousel would be an additional enticement.”
Patrons often made a day out of visiting the carousel with their family and friends. Kimberly Talbot of Brandon, FL, rode the carousel in the 1970s, and plans a visit next month.
“My grandfather would get the brass ring for us, and we were always excited to get ice cream after our ride,” she said.
Her friend, Liz Zollner of Tampa, FL, associates fond memories of the carousel with her mom, uncle, and classmates.
“My grade school, Our Saviour Lutheran in Rego Park, participated in an annual track and field day across Woodhaven Boulevard at Victory Field,” she said. “Then we'd all go on the carousel.”
Annmarie Baffa Teresco was raised in Richmond Hill and now resides in Las Vegas.
“As a child, I always rode the stationary horses,” she said. “When I worked there during college summers and saw little kids on those moving horses, I thought about how much of a ‘fraidy cat’ I was.”
“Carousels never went out of style, but some get reformatted with newer materials and figures,” said Krawchuk.
In fact, the Parks Department is increasing its carousel collection. He praised the modernist SeaGlass carousel in Battery Park, which is slated to open in October. The city purchased Coney Island’s historic B&B Carousel in 2005 after it was slated to be auctioned piecemeal, and now Steeplechase Plaza boasts this restored attraction.
Other popular non-landmarked carousels are the Flushing Meadows Carousel and the Carousel For All Children in Staten Island’s Willowbrook Park.
“If our priceless carousel is landmarked, it will stay open, and concessionaires can have access to additional funding to preserve it and bring it up to certain standards,” said Thomson.