In the foreground of the most photographed skyline on the planet, a charming touch of whimsy takes pride of place. Jane’s Carousel is the jewel in the already glittering crown that is New York.
Where could be a more fitting location for a lovingly hand-restored, ninety-five-year-old merry-go-round than a place called Dumbo?
Housed in ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel’s glass pavilion, the design frames the uninterrupted views of the East River, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and that skyline.
The former advertising art director spent nearly 28 years meticulously restoring the merry-go-round built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922. This colourful ride was once a highlight of the Idora Park amusement park at Youngstown, Ohio.
Her designer background gave her the right tools. Her life-long love of carousels gave her the determination to painstakingly strip the 62 years of ‘park paint’ with an X-Acto knife to reveal the original carvings and splendid colour palette. She also replaced the missing embellishments with palladium leaf, tiny bevelled mirrors on the bridles, faceted jewels and delicate pinstriping that adorned the 48 horses and 2 chariots.
Old blackened varnish was removed from original paintings and the dozens of old bevelled mirrors were reglazed. Mechanical systems were updated with new gears, motor and an electronic controller and fully rewired.
For the work, she felt needed the expertise of professionals Jane called in restoration artists from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an expert detailer from Mercedes. No mere restoration – you can see the love Jane gave to make the roundabout dance again.
Jane and her husband David purchased 2 million square feet on the tip of Brooklyn in 1983 and their master plan for the development always included a carousel as the centrepiece. It is the first carousel to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Their bid for the entire ride prevented it from being sold off piece by piece.
As the restoration nearing completion, the Pritzker prizewinning architect Jean Nouvel was appointed to create a pavilion to best show-off the carousel. Famed for his innovative use of glazing techniques, Nouvel’s ‘bijou’ (as he calls it) transforms the landscape without detracting from it.
Am elegant 72′ x 72′ jewel box now sits proudly in the Empire Fulton Ferry section of Brooklyn Bridge Park. At sunset, recessed screens descend to create a light show unlike any other; dreamlike shadows of dancing horses perform every hour on the hour for the world to see.
More than 7 million riders have enjoyed the spectacle at Brooklyn Bridge Park with countless birthdays celebrated beside the galloping ponies. As one of America’s most romantic destinations the carousel has been the backdrop for countless proposals, weddings, engagement and anniversary parties.
Jane Walentas’ hope is that “every child, whether from Brooklyn, across the river, or visiting from around the globe, will have the opportunity to experience this vintage Carousel in this extraordinary building set within this beautiful park. Imagine riding your favourite horse, with the Brooklyn Bridge towering overhead, as tugboats pass by. It doesn’t get much better!”
How right Jane is; this is a place for the child in us all, a magical place where the love does go round and round. And on my next visit to New York, I will visit my happy place.