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?
Jane’s Carousel is housed in ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel’s transparent pavilion, designed not only to shelter, but also to frame the uninterrupted views of the East River, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and that skyline.
Jane Walentas spent nearly 28 years meticulously restoring the merry-go-round built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922. The colourful ride was once a highlight of the Idora Park amusement park at Youngstown, Ohio. Her advertising art director and designer background in both New York and Italy 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 pin striping that adorned the 48 horses and 2 chariots.
The old blackened varnish was removed from original paintings and the dozens of old beveled mirrors were reglazed. The carousel’s mechanical systems were updated with new gears, motor and an electronic controller and fully rewired.
For the jobs she felt needed the expertise of professionals she called in restoration artists from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an expert detailer from Mercedes. This is no mere restoration; you can see the love Jane Walentas gave to make the roundabout live again.
Why? 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 centre piece. It is the first carousel to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Their bid for the entire carousel prevented it from being sold off piece by piece.
When the restoration was 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. This elegant 72′ x 72′ jewel box now sits proudly in the Empire Fulton Ferry section of Brooklyn Bridge Park. And 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.
Over 7 million riders have now enjoyed the spectacle at Brooklyn Bridge Park with more than a thousand birthday parties celebrated beside the galloping ponies. Now considered 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 once more; my happy place is Jane’s Carousel. For more: janescarousel.com