Oregon's Most Endangered Places: The Jantzen Beach Carousel
The Jantzen Beach Carousel is a four-abreast, C.W. Parker “Superior Park” model machine. Measuring a whopping 67 feet in diameter, it was specifically designed for permanent installation versus traveling use and is one of only a handful of such elaborate, oversized park-model carousels ever built. Commissioned in 1921 to add sparkle to the pier in Venice, California, the Jantzen Beach Carousel made its Oregon debut in 1928 as a star attraction at the then-new Jantzen Beach Amusement Park on Portland’s Hayden Island. According to an article published in The Oregonian that spring, the carousel’s creator, renowned “Amusement King” C.W. Parker, made the lengthy trek from Kansas to Oregon to oversee installation personally.
Jantzen Beach, so named in honor of the Portland-based Jantzen swimwear brand, was the first Olympic-sized swimming pool site in the Pacific Northwest. The expansion of this trendsetting complex in the late 1920s yielded a sprawling amusement park that soon became one of the most popular attractions in Oregon. In fact, from its opening season in the spring of 1928 through the mid-1960s, the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park enjoyed remarkably robust attendance, hosting as many as 725,000 visitors annually at the peak of its popularity.
In 1970, after several years of decline, the park was shuttered and demolished. Countless fans expressed dismay. Thus, in 1971 when construction of a new 500,0000 square foot shopping mall began at the park’s former home, plans were announced to maintain a lasting link to the site’s history by showcasing the carousel on the ground floor of the new shopping center. There it remained until 1995 when mall development plans threatened its future again.
With support from community members and local politicians, a core group of Jantzen Beach employees rallied to protect this cherished relic of Portland’s past. Desperately in need of restoration, the carousel was disassembled and refurbished at a cost of over $500,000. It then moved to a spacious new pavilion adjacent to the mall’s food court, where it remained for another 17 years.
In April 2012, the carousel was placed in storage in anticipation of a $50 million Jantzen Beach Center remodel which never happened. Instead, the carousel’s pavilion was demolished. In response, Restore Oregon placed the carousel on our Most Endangered Places list, joining scores of other historic properties across the state identified as being in imminent danger of loss due to economic challenges, development pressures, demolition, or neglect.
The Jantzen Beach Carousel was donated to Restore Oregon in September 2017. Since then, Restore Oregon staff have been hard at work developing and testing a repair and repainting protocol that will guide the carousel’s restoration.
The Jantzen Beach Carousel was originally shipped to the West Coast in December of 1921 and began operating in California early in 1922. It celebrated its 100th birthday in 2022.