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VOL. 132 | NO. 178 | Thursday, September 7, 2017

Historic Grand Carousel, New CMOM Pavilion Slated for November Debut

By Michael Waddell

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The highly anticipated return of the Grand Carousel – a popular attraction for years at Libertyland, the shuttered amusement park – is on schedule with a grand opening expected in about two months at the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

The carousel, one of the oldest all-horse carousels in the nation, will be located in the Grand Carousel Pavilion and Ballroom, a 20,000-square-foot expansion to the museum that was launched last summer.

The carousel was built in 1909 by William H. Dentzel, and its all-wooden elements were hand carved by artisans. All of the carved pieces have been completely restored and repainted to the original Dentzel fall color scheme by Carousels & Carvings Inc. in Marion, Ohio.

“The Children’s Museum is always looking for new ways to enhance the experience for our guests and our members, so when we realized that the carousel was in storage we decided to talk with the city and see if we could undertake the restoration so that we could teach children the importance of restoration and craftsmanship,” said Children’s Museum chief operating officer Art Davis.

The museum signed a 25-year lease with the city of Memphis in 2014 and the next year began the $1 million restoration process, which includes stripping the paint layer by layer from the carousel parts and doing analysis to determine the original colors used.

“Over the years, it had gone through many restorations and many efforts in order to preserve it, so a lot of it was damaged, especially on some of the wood in the center panel of the carousel and the ceiling panels,” Davis said.

The ride includes 48 horses (32 jumpers and 16 standers) along with two chariots and 1,350 lights, all of which had to be rewired to bring the carousel up to code.

One of the original chariots will be relocated to the pavilion adjacent to the carousel, where it will be available for photo opportunities. Taking its place on the ride will be a replacement replica chariot that is ADA-compliant.

“Many of the tails of horses were also damaged, so some re-carving had to be done,” Davis said. “It’s really the detail of the work they are doing.”

The ride was a center attraction at Libertyland when it opened on July 4, 1976. After the park closed down in 2005, the carousel sat out in the elements for four years before being disassembled by Carousels & Carvings in 2009 and then stored inside the Mid-South Coliseum in a tractor trailer with the doors welded shut so that no one could break in and damage the pieces.

The museum’s $4.75 million expansion includes a 20-foot lobby with glass on the north and south sides, as well as a large banquet hall that is available for special events of up to 300 people.

Designshop pllc is the architecture and design firm for the project, and Montgomery Martin Contractors handled the construction work on the new carousel building, which attaches to older 1940s-era buildings on the property.

“For the carousel restoration, we received money from FedEx, the Plough Foundation, and numerous donors, and we have a pledge from the Assisi Foundation (of Memphis) for the building,” said Children’s Museum chief financial officer Randy McKeel, who estimates tickets to the ride will generate a minimum of $240,000 per year based on last year’s attendance numbers.

The cost per ride for non-members will be $3, and museum members and school groups will be able to ride the carousel for free.

“We talked with other children’s museums in Indianapolis and Philadelphia that have carousels, and when they opened their carousels attendance increased by 50 percent, so we’re hoping our attendance the first year will hit 500,000,” McKeel said.

Revenue will also be generated from groups renting out the new space for parties, weddings and corporate gatherings.

Once all the restored carousel pieces arrive back from Ohio, they will be reassembled inside a carousel house, a large circular glass enclosed structure with a sweeping wooden roof about 40 feet high.

The profile of the building’s roof is patterned after one of the early 1900-era structures by Dentzel, so architecturally it will tie back and pay homage to him.

As people ride the carousel, they will be able to see great views out north onto Central Avenue.

“We’ll be able to touch the lives of adults and children by helping those who have memories of riding it relive those memories while also creating new memories for children,” Davis said.

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