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Balboa Park blossoms with help from a meaningful donation

Friends of Balboa park receives a historic donation while museums re-open just in time for spring


Institutions in Balboa Park are beginning to re-open, following a long, dormant period due to COVID-19. Along with the re-openings comes news of a large and very meaningful donation to Friends of Balboa Park for restoration of the carousel. The hope is that recovery is on its way.

Speaking of the carousel, it’s a menagerie. Known as a type of menagerie carousel, it has a wide assortment of animals, including ponies, ostriches, donkeys, dogs, cats, giraffes, a stork, deer, camel, tiger, lion, goat, dragon, chickens, pigs, frogs, and zebras — all of hand-carved wood, not made of fiberglass. Guests must sit during their rides, but that’s alright. Young, old, and in-between are filled with wonder. Visitors love the hand-carved wooden animals and decorations. The Balboa Park merry-go-round is still using its ten horsepower 1910 engine, and popular tunes of that same year and John Philip Sousa marches continue to fill the air. The hand-painted murals seen above the animals and the band organ are original. A small glass egg-timer is used to measure the three-minute ride. There is so much more to this long and fascinating history.

Shipped west to Los Angeles by the Herschell-Spillman factory in 1910 and installed in an amusement area named Luna Park, the merry-go-round was sold to a gentleman in San Diego who moved it between Tent City in Coronado and Balboa Park in 1922. The carousel is rumored to have been present in Balboa Park during the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, but that hasn’t been verified. By 1922, it was located where the Fleet Science Center is today, then moved to its present location beside the zoo entrance in 1968. A series of dedicated owners have enjoyed operating the carousel over the last 111 years. That especially includes Friends of Balboa Park.

The Friends of Balboa Park’s $3 million carousel campaign goal was achieved recently with a $1 million gift toward the restoration of the park’s much loved ride. Philanthropist Dorothea Laub made that generous contribution and, by now, has contributed more than $2.5 million dollars to an array of park projects. Those projects include sponsorship of the carousel’s band organ and tiger ride. Laub also made large donations to Dance Place and to the Dorothea Laub Music & Arts Center at Liberty Station. Her most recent donation ensured surpassing the larger goal, which includes the $1.5 million price for purchase of the carousel in 2017. A separate $100,000 donation was made to the carousel project in March 2021 by the Conrad Prebys Foundation. The news gets better and better. Though outwardly quiet during the pandemic, work continues inside. The carousel will re-open with new lights and a fresh look. An opening date will be announced when the state of California approves. There will be great joy when that happens. 619.232.2282, friendsofbalboapark.org    


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