Restore Oregon has selected the National Neon Sign Museum as the carousel’s new steward!
Following six years of restoration planning and an intensive statewide site search, Restore Oregon’s board of directors has made a momentous decision, selecting the National Neon Sign Museum in The Dalles as the new steward of the beloved Jantzen Beach Carousel.
Restore Oregon - a statewide nonprofit preservation organization dedicated to saving Oregon’s historic places, and the National Neon Sign Museum - an entity dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of illuminated advertising and signage and the unique historic, social, and cultural roles both have played in American history, jointly announced today that one of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places, the 1921 Jantzen Beach Carousel, will have a wonderful new home in The Dalles as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Restore Oregon first placed the Jantzen Beach Carousel on its Most Endangered Places list in 2012, where it joined other historic properties across the state identified as being in imminent danger of loss due to economic challenges, development pressures, demolition, or neglect.
Five years later, Restore Oregon accepted a donation of the carousel from its former owners, and has been hard at work ever since, developing and testing repair and repainting protocols to guide future restoration, while also seeking a new carousel home and steward.
The quest to find a worthy custodian for this cherished piece of Oregon’s cultural history has been a lengthy one, spanning nearly six years and one worldwide pandemic. Earlier this year, communities across Oregon submitted heartfelt proposals, each a testament to the carousel's significance in the hearts of Pacific Northwesterners. However, one proposal shone particularly brightly. The National Neon Sign Museum shared a vision for the carousel that included preservation and celebration of the carousel’s artistry and history, as well as amazing opportunities for education, tourism, and economic development in The Dalles downtown business core, and the Columbia River Gorge at large.
"The Jantzen Beach Carousel is an integral part of Oregon's cultural heritage, and we are delighted to place its guardianship in the capable hands of the National Neon Sign Museum," said Nicole Possert, Executive Director of Restore Oregon. "The National Neon Sign Museum's strong commitment to preserving and promoting the historical, social, and cultural relevance of vintage signage - and their previous preservation success in restoring the historic Elks Lodge which houses their collection - gives us every confidence that the carousel will thrive under their stewardship, allowing this beloved hand-carved gem to continue to inspire wonder and joy in Oregonians and visitors to Oregon for generations to come."
The National Neon Sign Museum provides visitors with a luminously immersive experience that celebrates the artistry and allure of neon signs and educates visitors about the significant role neon signs played in American history. Museum founders David and Kirsten Benko stand poised to welcome this historic attraction to their institution, which is currently home to more than 20,000 square feet of electrified signage, ephemera, and interactive displays, dating from the late 1800s through the 1960s.
“Once a dispersion point where entrepreneurs, innovators, and adventurers either settled down or departed from to embark upon a new life, The Dalles has long connected people from east to west. We have been delighted to help continue that spirit of connection, first with the creation of the National Neon Sign Museum, and now by welcoming the historic Jantzen Beach Carousel to our museum campus. Both neon signs and carousels are industrial works of art; and just as signs were meant to occupy prominent spots on Main Street where they would be visible to all, we strongly believe the carousel should enjoy a location of prominence. We cannot wait to restore this century-old masterpiece, and provide it with a dazzling new home in The Dalles' historic downtown business district. The Jantzen Beach Carousel is both an Oregon treasure and a national treasure, and we are eager to work with our community, and industry experts, to bring this one-of-a-kind treasure back to life as a major West Coast attraction,” said David Benko, founder and executive director of the National Neon Sign Museum.
Added Kirsten Benko, the museum’s Director of Education, ”As a teacher, I work with young people both in and out of our schools. I believe the carousel offers an encouraging visual that provides hope, which is necessary in today's educational landscape. Restoration, creativity, and history lend themselves visually to supporting students' understanding that all things, physical and material, have the capacity to be renewed. This project will undoubtedly provide many opportunities for students to be involved, learn, engage, discuss, collaborate, critically think, and have fun while considering a number of topics related to restoration. While the carousel's ultimate purpose is entertainment, I believe its restoration will provide an opportunity for people of all ages who are passionate about history, art, and industry to come together as a family, in support of a shared goal, knowing that their work will inspire joy in everyone who visits the carousel.”
Partnership with the National Neon Sign Museum achieves both of Restore Oregon’s original goals for the carousel: to ensure its long-term survival, and to secure a viable new home and steward for it. Now, under the care of the National Neon Sign Museum, and guided by Restore Oregon’s preservation roadmap for restoration, the carousel is poised to return more beautifully and brightly than ever!
“After thoroughly vetting strong proposals from around the state, it was clear that in addition to meeting our board’s stringent site criteria, the National Neon Sign Museum shares many of Restore Oregon’s guiding principles and goals,” said Stephanie Brown, Restore Oregon’s Director of Carousel Planning and Education. “Both organizations value the carousel’s unique history and artistry, both are committed to the carousel’s restoration and reactivation, and both want to ensure that the carousel remains accessible and affordable to Oregon’s families and visitors.”
The National Neon Sign Museum is well equipped to secure credentialed volunteers to assist with the restoration of the carousel’s herd of 82 horses. For example, in August 2022, the museum organized and managed the Northwest Muralfest West Coast Walldog event, a project three years in the making. Planning included historical research as well as identifying locations for murals, producing renderings to guide the painting of the murals, and matching skilled artists with renderings that fit their unique artistic styles. Museum leaders also recruited community members to help host the production. The resulting four-day event attracted more than 300 national and international professional painters from around the world, who, with the exception of the lead artists who received stipends, came at their own expense, to offer painting services for the creation of 15 large murals. The National Neon Sign Museum served as event headquarters, with David Benko, Executive Director of the National Neon Sign Museum, serving as project lead. Volunteers from all the major civic organizations in The Dalles, as well as many local business operators and community supporters contributed time, funding, housing, food, and resources during the muralfest.
“We intend to use a similar model to the Walldogs Muralfest to facilitate the painting of the Jantzen Beach Carousel horses,” said David Benko. “We have no doubt that the repainting of the carousel here will garner similar passion and attention.”
The carousel’s wooden elements, including horses, panels, and decorative wooden elements, will be restored onsite in The National Neon Sign Museum’s new education center, which features three classrooms, a maker space, two special exhibition galleries (which may also eventually house C.W. Parker ephemera), a working glass plant, and painting and gold leaf facilities. Visitors will have opportunities to watch artisans work on carousel horses in this space, and may also have opportunities to volunteer to assist with restoration efforts.
Historically speaking, neon and early amusement attractions share similar roots. Both neon and carousels enjoyed their heyday in the United States prior to World War II, especially in the 1920s. Likewise, both the carousel and the museum’s collection of neon are elegant displays of beauty and artwork from this time period. Once operating, the carousel – which has over 1,300 lightbulbs of its own - will serve as an anchor to the museum’s early lightbulb display and pre-war neon signs that will be displayed alongside the carousel in its planned glass-fronted pavilion, to be constructed on the empty lot abutting the museum. The new pavilion will showcase the spectacular craftsmanship of the carousel and complement the historic architecture of the museum’s existing building, a former Elks Lodge which is a contributing structure in The Dalles Commercial Historic District District. The National Neon Sign Museum envisions the carousel becoming an integral attraction in The Dalles, supporting the ongoing efforts of The Dalles Chamber of Commerce and The Dalles Main Street program.
Restore Oregon and the National Neon Sign Museum believe the carousel has the potential to be both a downtown anchor and a strong economic development multiplier for the City of The Dalles by creating jobs during the restoration and construction phases, and once operational, by making a long term impact, both in terms of tourism and increased quality of life for residents of The Dalles. They are not alone in this belief.
“It is our honor and privilege that The Dalles has been selected as the new home for the Jantzen Beach Carousel. The National Neon Sign Museum in The Dalles will be the perfect location for this treasured piece of Pacific Northwest history. Our entire community and those beyond will embrace the carousel’s history and craftsmanship as we celebrate its full restoration and, eventually, its arrival as a beloved attraction once again,” said Richard Mays, Mayor of The Dalles.
Added J. Chris Zukin, Board President of The Dalles Main Street, “The Dalles Main Street is excited to see the historic Jantzen Beach Carousel come home to The Dalles. The carousel will be a powerful magnet and will bring people to The Dalles from all over the world. The National Neon Sign Museum is the perfect setting for the carousel to be located, and we look forward to working with the entire community to restore and enjoy this treasure.”
"The National Neon Sign Museum’s unique vision and twin passions for preservation and education make them the perfect custodians for the beloved Jantzen Beach Carousel,” said Rachel Browning, Board President of Restore Oregon. “We are confident that under their careful watch, the carousel will enjoy a long and very bright future.”
Restore Oregon recognizes that it takes a village to rehome a historic carousel, and would like to acknowledge those that have served as partners, friends and supporters during this multi-year effort, including the members of our Jantzen Beach Blue Ribbon Committee, Gensler, SERA, PLACE, KPFF Consulting Engineers, P&C Construction, Kimco, Historic Carousels Inc., and Weinstein PR, whose generous donations of in-kind professional services demonstrate the local business community’s commitment to Oregon’s historic place. Additionally, this work has been funded by Harvey and Sandy Platt, Portland Diamond Project, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Kinsman Foundation, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department: Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Cultural Trust, National Carousel Association, Juan Young Trust, Schwemm Family Foundation, the Keller Foundation, and an incredibly generous anonymous donor at the Oregon Community Foundation.
Find future updates about the Jantzen Beach Carousel at www.jantzenbeachcarousel.org and exclusive updates on TAP Network @ NNSM available on iOS App Store or Google Play. Download via the hyperlinks. (Both live on Sept. 12).