Jeff Humphrey

Carrousel Rides Back into Our Hearts

Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308

Saturday, May 12, 2018 at 1 p.m.

Just about everybody has taken a spin on Spokane’s most popular amusement ride.

But hop on the Looff Carrousel, now that it’s making the rounds in its new home, and you’ll experience this treasure in ways that haven’t been possible before.

“It’s a brand new display case for one of Spokane’s most precious jewels. It’s a beautiful building, inside and out. For the first time, each and every one of the animals are completely restored,” said Leroy Eadie, Director of Parks and Recreation.

The new rotunda gives the century old carrousel the space and lighting it deserves. And while the carrousel’s beauty shines through more than ever, “you can still grab a ring and toss it at the target,” Eadie said, as he climbed into the ride’s control booth.

Charles Looff was commissioned to build the carrousel as a destination for Spokane’s new electric trolley. 

However, when a company called Spokane Traction couldn’t cover the $20,000 price tag, Looff gave it to his daughter Emma as a wedding gift and set the carrousel on a new course in Natatorium Park.

“It is no coincidence that this carrousel wound up here, going all the way back to 1903 when Lewis Vogel bought Natatorium Park, happened to be married to Emma Looff whose father was a carrousel horse carver and builder,” said Gerry Sperling who is Vogel’s step-daughter and current Spokane Park Board member.

After the carrousel took its last turns at Natatorium in 1968, it was dismantled and stored at stored at Geiger field.

Bill Fearn, the director of Spokane’s Park and Recreation Department thought the merry ground would make a great attraction at Expo ’74.

“Bill Fearn saved the carrousel for its historical value not for its monetary value at all. But as it turned out, it became very valuable,” recalled Hal McGlathery, Riverfront Park’s manager from 1982 to 1996.

So valuable and so rare, Fearn decided against exposing the carrousel to Expo ’74 crowds.

The carrousel took its first spins in Riverfront Park one year later and was an instant success.

“If the city and the citizens hadn’t taken the time for us to buy it to save it. This is what’s so special about this carrousel, it’s everybody’s,” Sperling said with a smile.

While the Looff’s newest home was taking shape, volunteers headed up by Bette Largent painstakingly refurbished every aspect of the carrousel, including 333 antique mirrors.

“It has to be taken down very carefully because of all the mirrors and when we put it back it has to be put together, even more carefully,” said Largent, the carrousel’s curator for the past 25 years.

And that job has been entrusted to second generation carousel restoration expert Brad Perron.

“Spokane is one of the few success stories of a municipality actually buying, operating and owning a carrousel,” said Perron.

The Looff is a functional piece of art that weighs in at seven tons yet is so well balanced, “just one person can push the entire machine,” Perron demonstrated as he rotated the carrousel by hand.

So with new lighting, sound system and improved views of Riverfront Park, the rotunda is now ready to showcase the carrousel like a spinning, crown jewel.

“It’s just in the most gorgeous place it could be,” gushed Sperling.

“It’s going to be a signal. My goodness, this is a beautiful carrousel, throwing out all this reflected light!” McGlathery predicted.

“There’s about 140 carrousels left in the world. There’s probably less than two dozen originals. And so that’s what makes this one so unique and so special,” Perron said with admiration.

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