Sunday, February 12, 2017

King Arthur's Carrousel

The story of the creation of the King Arthur's Carrousel, like the story of its namesake king, is the stuff of legend. Thanks to a recently disclosed document, we also have a better idea of how much Disney paid Arrow Development for their engineering work, which involved completely renovating and enlarging the carousel from Sunnyside Park in Toronto, Canada.

1897 Dentzel from Woodside Amusement Park
Note that the outside row are all "standers"

The Sunnyside Park Dentzel carousel operated from 1922 to the mid 50's. Although some sources claim it was built in 1875, there are no records confirming that. Originally a three row model, with the outer row all "standers" it became the foundation for another piece of Walt's dream.

Griffith Park Carousel

Without increasing the diameter of the turntable, Arrow Development added another course and converted all the horses to jumpers, like the 1926 Spillman carousel which Walt loved at Griffith Park.  This doubled the mechanical load on the drive mechanism, as every crankshaft had to be lengthened and modified to drive two added rows of jumping horses.  By this time Arrow had plenty of experience, having built several other carousels, up to 45 feet in diameter.

Arrow Ponies at Roeding Park

Five of King Arthur's horses came from the carousel from San Francisco's Playland at the Beach, just a few miles up the peninsula from Arrow's shop in Mountain View.  Four of those - the ones with the broomstick tails - ended up on King Arthur's and one was given to Disney Imagineer #1; Roger Broggie. That makes the King Arthur figures a mix from Sunnyside, Ward's Kiddieland from Coney Island, and Loof and Dentzel horses from Playland in San Francisco.

1907 Seattle Luna Park Looff Carousel (note the crouching tiger)
Note the tiger and the starburst medallions.
Marianne Steven's family kept the tiger when
they sold the carousel to San Francisco

Playland Looff about 1940 - Outer row standers and leapers

The Playland Carousel was built in 1906 by renowned designer and craftsman Charles I.D. Looff and intended to be installed in San Francisco, however the great 1906 earthquake and fire put that plan on hold.  In 1907 it was installed at Luna Park in Seattle. It finally made it to Playland-at-the-Beach in 1913, where it operated for nearly 60, years, until 1972. The carousel was next purchased by a private collector who put into storage.  In 1998, it was purchased by the City of San Francisco.

Marianne Stevens with friends

There appears to be some confusion about provenance because there were two Luna Parks, one located at Coney Island and the other in Seattle. The Looff Coney Island, Luna Park, Broadway Flying Horses Carousel was built in 1890 and ended up at Shoreline Village in San Diego.

Roger Broggie's Dentzel Pony

Arrow converted the third row standers on the Sunnyside Park Dentzel to jumpers by removing their legs and carving new ones. The chariot benches were removed and their woodwork was re-purposed to decorate the "calliope" tenders and passenger cars of the Casey Jr. Circus Train.  A Wurlitzer #157 Band Organ face was used as decoration, and motifs from  Sleeping Beauty were also added.

New framework from Brass Ring Entertainment under construction - 1955

According to an article in E-Ticket Magazine King Arthur's current horses are all "outside row" quality.  There are mounts for 72, which enables a rolling maintenance schedule of four-on-four-off, which also explains why horses will appear to change location from time to time.

Spiffing up ponies in Burbank
(Yes, that's "Jingles" on the right.)
A Disney expenditure authorization document dated May 5, 1955, gives some added details regarding the level of effort involved in the creation of the King Arthur Carousel;

Disney Expense Authorization #236, signed by George Whitney
who founded Playland and attended Disney's pitch at the NAAPPB
Convention in Chicago in 1954.

The text reads; 

To cover the additional amount of $5000.00 in authorizing the total amount of $20,000.00 for modification work being accomplished by Arrow Development Co. on the Carrousel for Fantasyland.

The work previously authorized by E. A. No 40, dated 11/10/54, in the amount of $15,000.00. 

This increase is based on re-estimations of the "Estimated cost to complete",  per Arrow Development Co. of 5/1/55.

This increase covered by a budget increase of $5,000 on 1/1/55.

These figures and dates add some fascinating details to our understanding of both Disneyland's development costs and schedule and the history of Arrow Development. Changes to one of the anchor attractions were still under way as late as May and the budget for it had grown by 1/3, with two months of work still remaining. 

In today's dollars, the King Arthur's cost, just thru May 1955, would be $1.82 million. As a point of reference, Brass Ring has advertised a fully restored 1890 Looff at $2.75 million.  

Fortunately the Playland Carousel has been restored and is operating again in San Francisco at the Children's Creativity Museum. Its still not clear where the five Dentzel horses which made it to Disney came from.  Perhaps the good folks at Playland-Not-at-the-Beach can shed some light on the matter, as they have much of the documentation from Whitney's Playland.

Four white steeds prancing in the California sun.

By the way, for some absolutely stunning Illions carousel horse images visit the Carousel History page.  Thanks to Patrick Wentzel for additional research and corrections - df

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