Famed Crescent Park Carousel Now Open, but Repairs Still Needed
The Crescent Park Carousel was recently closed for repairs. Staff members noticed a problem with "swaying" and unevenness of the rotating floor. With an annual average rider ship of 100,000, the Crescent Park Carousel has given 11.6 million riders a thrill since its birth. The Crescent Park Carousel was built in 1895 by Charles I.D. Looff, one of the earliest and foremost carousel designers. The Crescent Park Carousel is nationally recognized as a true masterpiece of wood sculpture. Originally built as a showcase for prospective buyers, it is the largest and most elaborate of Looff's works (Carousel Park Commission).
On June 25, 2019, the City Council appointed Carousel Commission held a meeting in which they outlined a plan to repair and re-open the famous carousel. The commission has hired a "Carousel Specialist", Carousels and Carvings, and is studying the results of their recommendations. "What we are hoping to do is only a temporary fix, the carousel needs to be properly supported to ensure its continued operations," Carousel Manager Tracy Johnson told the commission members. Also attending the meeting was Mayor Bob DaSilva, City Solicitor Michael Marcello and City Council members Ricardo Mourato and Bob Rodericks.
A joint statement from Mayor Bob DaSilva and the commission stated that "the carousel will temporarily remain closed to the public due to a mechanical issue that is affecting the balance of the ride. We had our long-time caretaker assess the situation, and we are unable to locate the exact cause of this imbalance. We have contacted Carousels and Carvings, a manufacturer of carousels and provider of restoration services, and are expecting them to assess the carouse. Once the cause has been determined, we will be able to create a plan for repairs and will update everyone as information becomes available. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience and understanding. Our goal has always been and remains to keep the carousel alive for generations to come."
The 125 year old carousel has seen several repairs and maintenance efforts through the years. Specialists at Carousels and Carvings have determined that the intricate system which supports the carousel is in need of a lot of work. "They determined that our mast is leaning, causing an increased and uncontrollable sway in the ride," said Johnson. "The carousel's support system, the mast and mudsills with supporting pillars, rests above floor level. The mast support pillars should rest centered on top of these pillars and they do not," added Johnson. The commission is now awaiting a report from the company "that will help us to create the plan and implement repairs in order of importance," said Johnson.
The Carousel contains 62 beautifully hand carved figures and four fanciful chariots. Overall richness of effect was Looff's trademark and the Crescent Park Carousel gives full interpretation to that spirit. Elaborate embellishments of decorative panels, beveled mirrors, faceted glass jewels, electric lights, colored sandwich glass windows and its original band organ music surround flying steeds to create Looff's "Total Carousel Experience." Crescent Park Carousel was placed on the National Register of Historic sites and places in 1976. In 1985, the Rhode Island General Assembly proclaimed the Carousel as the State Jewel of American Folk Art and in 1987, the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, designated the Carousel as a National Historic Landmark (Carousel Commission website).
One of the constants at Crescent Park is Ed Serowik. One of the constants at Crescent Park has been 77 year old Edward Serowik of Riverside. Serowik has worked at the park since 1948 or so. The Reporter interviewed Serowik a few years ago in doing a special on the Carousel. "Since I was 12 to 14 years old I worked at the park setting pins at the bowling alley and other odd jobs. At 15 I was working on the Merry-Go-Round. I was the last hire of Mr. Looffs's daughter," said Serowik. "After high school I continued to work at the park. I became ride supervisor and head of maintenance for the entire park." In 1972, Serowik was hired by the city school department and eventually became head of maintenance for the high school, a job he held for 30 years. "While working full time for the schools, I continued to work part time at Crescent Park. I've seen a lot in my years here," he recalled pensively. "When the park closed in 1977 it was sad to me and to so many. It was boarded up and remained closed for years. Retired now, Serowik helps keeps the place going and has filled the carousel with hundreds of pictures and memorabilia from the park's early days. Patrons often visit him in his very small, cluttered office to view pictures and chat about the history of Crescent Park. His personal knowledge and collection is extensive.
When the park closed and was sold, the carousel's future was in doubt. A grass-roots lawsuit by 5 Riverside residents to "save Crescent Park" was imitated . A large auction was held in March of 1979. The Carousel was slated to be torn down with the rest of the park. But local residents, Gail Durfee, Jobel (Tracy) Aguiar, Richard Lund, Linda McEntee, & Robin Peacock fought back. While most of Crescent Park was auctioned off in 1979, a fire destroyed much of the midway in 1980. And in 1984 the vacant shore dinner hall burned down. Arson was suspected. The "Save our Carousel Committee" led by the "Crescent Park Five" concentrated on an effort to at least save and preserve the Looff Carousel. Many proposals were floated to city leaders and several did not include keeping the carousel. Contacted shortly before she passed away, Gail Durfee did not want to say much. "I've pretty much been taken out of the loop these days," she said. Durfee did have a few comments however. "Our goal was to save the carousel and some prime waterfront land for the public. That was our goal," she said. After a long legal battle, in which former state Attorney General, Arlene Violet represented the group, a compromise was reached in Superior Court. The carousel was saved and the city was given about 7 acres of bay front land for open space and almost 4 acres around the carousel itself. In turn, developer Kelly & Picerne got to build Section 8 housing for the elderly and handicapped near the carousel in a complex now called Crescent Park Manor. Individual upscale condos were built on the Bullocks Point avenue side of the road. The developer bought the land from the city for about $825,000. And thus, the historic Crescent Park Looff Carousel was saved and now thrives. The Crescent Park Five, as they been called, were recently inducted into the EPHS Hall of Fame for their efforts to save the Looff Carousel.
Of the over 50 carousels that Charles Looff built in his lifetime, the Crescent Park version remains one of the few remaining in operation in the world. Looff's first carousel was built on the pier at Crescent Park and doubled as a sample to perspective buyers from other parks. It was later moved to Hunt's Mills in Rumford where another smaller amusement park operated. But the larger and grander version still sits in Riverside.
When the carousel resumes operation after a "phase 1" repair, the ride will be limited to just 30 people at a time. "We will need to reduce the amount of people on the deck. loading 10 at a time to specific areas," explained Johnson. "When hosting some private parties, the general public will not have access right away." The commission agreed to hire a structural engineer and have that person meet with the carousel specialist to solve the problem. "Phase 1 is to have the carousel properly secured and a Phase 2 will be to create a long term maintenance plan that will address the center bearing and top hub," said Johnson. It is estimated to exceed $250,000 to make necessary repairs in Phase 1.