A Bumpy Ride for the Forest Park Carousel

Late Woodhaven community activist Maria Thomson, who fought for nearly three decades to get the carousel landmarked, on June 19, 2013, the day that the Forest Park Carousel was officially designated as a NYC Landmark.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

In last week’s column, we looked at the life of Master Carousel Carver Daniel C. Muller and the establishment of a carousel in Forest Park in 1924. For four decades, residents of Woodhaven and other communities surrounding Forest Park enjoyed old-fashioned fun at our carousel.

But on December 10, 1966, tragedy struck when the Forest Park Carousel was destroyed by a fire. It was reported at 8:40 p.m. and despite a quick and massive response from the Fire Department, it was not brought under control until 9:28 p.m. And in those 48 minutes, a great deal of rare and exquisite carousel artistry was lost forever.

No cause of the fire was ever determined though vandalism was suspected. The carousel was insured for $50,000 but it was estimated that it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to replace.

Over the next few years, residents and elected officials called for the city to replace the carousel but the news was all bad and it looked like something unique and special was lost forever.

However, in January 1972 they received the miracle they were hoping for. When it was announced that the Lakeview Amusement Park in Dracut, Massachusetts was closing permanently, the City of New York moved quickly, purchasing the carousel for just $30,000.

And it wasn’t just any old carousel. Amazingly, the carousel was a Muller. A few figures were missing so a few other figures (two by Dentzel and  one by Charles Carmel, another notable carousel artist of the same era) were purchased and added to the menagerie.

One of the surviving horses from the original Forest Park Carousel, which was destroyed by fire on December 10, 1966. This horse, the work of Master Carousel Carver Daniel C. Muller, can be seen in the lobby of Oak Ridge, the offices of the Forest Park Administration.

And so, the Forest Park Carousel was back, but the next few years were a bumpy ride. In 1984, the Forest Park Carousel closed indefinitely for repairs.

Four years later, the Queens-based Fabricon Design Group, led by carousel designer Marvin Sylvor restored the Forest Park Carousel, repairing and repainting figures and replacing missing pieces. Once again, the Forest Park Carousel was running and in 2004 it was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places.

But within a few years the city and the vendor chosen to maintain the carousel parted ways. When residents visited the park in Spring 2009, they found the Forest Park Carousel fenced in, padlocked and surrounded with barbed wire.

Concerned that the city would sell off this priceless gem, the community (led by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association) brought their concerns to the attention of local elected officials and the press. And then another miracle happened. After a three year wait, New York Carousel was chosen to reopen and operate the Forest Park Carousel, which it did, to great fanfare, in 2012.

And on June 19, 2013, the Forest Park Carousel was officially designated as a New York City Landmark. The community came out to celebrate and support the carousel and parents and grandparents (who were lifted onto the ride as children) lifted their children and grandchildren onto the ride. The community was comforted by the fact that, as a landmark, the Forest Park Carousel would be protected for many generations to come.

And so, the Forest Park Carousel was open and landmarked, but it was still a bumpy ride. Literally. Whenever the carousel reached full speed, it tended to sway and you could hear the gears grinding.

The caretakers of the carousel knew that an overhaul was long overdue. At the end of the 2014 season, the Forest Park Carousel was taken apart by employees of the carousel and a group from Carousels & Carvings, carousel specialists from Marion, Ohio. Many pieces that needed to be replaced were driven 555 miles to Carousels & Carvings’ headquarters where they were rebuilt over the winter.

49 horses (36 jumpers and 13 standers on the outer row), three menagerie figures (a Tiger, a Lion and a Deer) and two Chariots were carefully removed and stored away over the winter. Every single thing was stripped off of the carousel and the center stack was lifted and suspended all winter by an indoor crane to enable the team to remove the center bearings. The entire process took nearly three weeks.

In the spring, the team reunited and began the complicated process of putting a 100+ year old carousel back together. This is not an everyday occurrence and the members of that team appreciated that this was a unique opportunity.

And when it was all back together, the city’s safety chief came out to inspect the ride and after hearing the quiet whoosh as it ran at full speed, he smiled and said “That sounds like a smooth ride.”

With the carousel restored, repaired and landmarked we hope that it will be around for many years to come. We can all do our part to help keep the Forest Park Carousel healthy by stopping by for a ride on Woodhaven’s Historic Landmark!

Forest Park Carousel Connects Generations

For close to a century, the Carousel in Forest Park has been part of the rituals of growing up in Woodhaven, Glendale, Richmond Hill, and many of the other nearby neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. In many families, several generations have fond memories of riding on the carousel as children before passing along the tradition by taking their own children or grandchildren for their first ride.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com 

In this two part series, we look at the Forest Park Carousel, which was designated as a New York City Landmark 10 years ago, in 2013.

For close to a century, the Carousel in Forest Park has been part of the rituals of growing up in Woodhaven, Glendale, Richmond Hill, and many of the other nearby neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn.

In many families, several generations have fond memories of riding on the carousel as children before passing along the tradition by taking their own children or grandchildren for their first ride. The Forest Park Carousel is not only a fun ride, but also a beautiful and historically significant piece of work.

Nearly all the figures were created by the hands of legendary Master Carver Daniel C. Muller, a crucial factor in the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to designate the Forest Park Carousel a New York City Landmark in 2013.

To gain a better understanding of Muller, we need to start with Gustav Dentzel who had learned the craft of carousel-building from his father Michael in Germany and immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1864. Though he initially took up trade as a cabinetmaker, in 1867 he began the G.A. Dentzel Steam and Horsepower Carousel Builder Company.

Dentzel’s firm completed an average of four full carousels a year, some of the earliest carousels in the United States.

One of Dentzel’s carvers was also a close friend, John Heinrich Muller. When Mueller died suddenly, Dentzel raised his surviving two teenage sons as his own. The brothers, Daniel and Alfred, joined the Dentzel family business in 1890 and began carving carousel figures.

One of the many menagerie carvings by legendary Master Carver Daniel C. Muller on our Forest Park Carousel, which celebrates its 10th anniversary of being named a New York City Landmark this summer.

Although both brothers were talented carvers, it was Daniel C. Muller (born in 1872) who truly shone, honing his craft at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. D. C. Muller’s carvings were notable for being very beautiful and realistic. He was also known for militaristic carvings with horses sporting bugles, swords and canteens.

In 1903, the brothers left Dentzel and started their own company, D.C. Muller Brothers Carousel Manufacturing Company, a much smaller shop than Dentzel ran. The Mullers only managed to build 12 carousels over 14 years with much of the delays attributed to Muller’s attention to detail.

The Mullers closed the shop in 1917 and rejoined their former company, which had been run by William Dentzel since his father Gustav’s passing in 1909. They remained with the Dentzels until William passed away and the company folded in 1928 as the Golden Age of Carousels in America came to a close.

And that brings us to the Forest Park Carousel. In the early days of Forest Park, the golf course was much larger, covering all the land down to what is known today as Park Lane South. All the land that the Forest Park Carousel sits on today, plus all the area surrounding it, was originally part of the golf course.

The residents of Woodhaven complained and in 1923 the Parks Department reduced the size of the golf course and the land that was freed up was set aside as public park space. It was at that time that Forest Park began to more closely resemble the park we know today.

Plans for playgrounds, a concrete bandstand, tennis courts and a carousel were announced. It’s hard to imagine, but residents of Woodhaven were very opposed to the placement of a carousel so close to Woodhaven Boulevard, which was a sleepy one-lane road called Woodhaven Avenue at the time.

Construction on a building to contain the carousel finished in December 1922, in the woods, well off from Woodhaven Avenue. And by 1924, a carousel was spinning in Forest Park.

For over half a century, residents of Woodhaven and surrounding communities flocked to the Forest Park Carousel. Parents and grandparents put their children on the carousel, then sat and enjoyed the pipe organ music and the smell of hot dogs and popcorn.

Riders on the outside row of figures could try to win prizes by reaching out and grabbing rings that were suspended just out of reach. When children weren’t on the carousel, they had beautiful Forest Park to chase each other around in while their parents chatted with friends in the biergarten.

Next week, we’ll look at the next chapter in the life of our Forest Park Carousel, a story that contains tragedy as well as the tale of a Muller Carousel rising from the ashes of destruction.

Youth Celebrate 100th Birthday of Mary Whalen Playground + Summer Events

A wonderful time was had by the children of Woodhaven at the 100th Birthday Party for Mary Whalen Playground at 79th Street and Park Lane South, which opened on June 17th 1923.

By Ed Wendell

This past weekend, the kids of Woodhaven came out to celebrate the 100th birthday of Mary Whalen Playground, at 79th Street and Park Lane South. Children brought an amazing number of beautiful birthday cards for the playground and at 12 noon, 100 years to the moment that it opened, everyone joined together for a chorus of Happy Birthday.

Special thanks to Portia Dyrenforth, Administrator of Forest Park, and her amazing team who helped make this a spectacular party. And a big thank you to the Forest Park Golf Course, for loaning us a golf cart for the kids to take pictures on, and the Forest Park Carousel, for donating a birthday party package as the main raffle prize.

And a special word of thanks to Woodhaven’s Jennifer Lambert, our local artist who did an amazing job putting together this party and making sure all the local schools knew all about it. It was truly a special day in Woodhaven.

It was truly a significant day in Woodhaven history for this marked the anniversary of when the Forest park we all know and love began to take shape. Originally, almost all of what we know of Forest Park used to be the golf course.

Two of the many beautiful birthday cards created by the children of Woodhaven in honor of Mary Whalen Playground’s 100th Birthday this past Saturday.

But residents complained and the Parks Department and the City of New York redesigned the course to give lots of land back to the people of Woodhaven for recreation. Within a year of the playground opening, two other local icons would open for business: The Forest Park Carousel and the Seuffert Bandshell.

And so, plans are already underway to have a big party next year celebrating the 100th Birthday for these two places which are hard to imagine growing up in Woodhaven without.

How many rides have residents of Woodhaven taken on the Carousel? How many people have attended wonderful concerts over the last century at the bandshell? We look forward to paying tribute to both in 2024.

And speaking of the bandshell, here is the schedule of shows and concerts coming to you this summer courtesy of The Forest Park Trust and Maspeth Federal Savings:

  • Thursday June 29th, 7:30 p.m. Queens Symphony Orchestra. Celebrate Queens Symphony Orchestra’s 70th Anniversary with a concert of blockbuster, patriotic tunes paying tribute to the birth of our great nation.
  • Thursday July 6th, 7:30 p.m. Billy Joel Tribute. Captain Jack, the ultimate Billy Joel Tribute Band, returns to Forest Park. The last time they were here it was a great show that was unfortunately interrupted by a downpour. This year, we’re looking forward to seeing the entire show.
  • Thursday July 13th, 7:30 p.m. Rent. Plaza Theatrical Productions presents “Rent,” winner of the Tony Award for Best musical. What a wonderful opportunity to see live theater right here in Forest Park.
  • Thursday July 20th, 7:30 p.m. Elvis Presley Tribute. Jesse Garron’s tribute to Elvis Presley has been called “The Closest Thing to the King.” Come to the bandshell as he takes the audience on a musical journey covering hits through Elvis’ long and outstanding musical career.
  • Thursday July 27th, 7:30 p.m. Earth, Wind & Fire Tribute. Shining Star brings the legendary sounds of one of the best-selling bands of all time to Forest Park.
  • Thursday August 3rd, 7:30 p.m. Tina Turner Tribute. This is going to be a special night as we are treated to a high-energy tribute to the legendary Tina Turner, who recently passed away.
  • Thursday August 10th, 7:30 p.m. Paul McCartney Tribute. We’re in for a treat as we’re presented with a selection of Sir Paul’s solo work, his work with Wings and his work with a little band called The Beatles.
  • Thursday August 17th, 7:00 p.m. Queensboro Dance Festival. Celebrate the Queensboro Dance Festival’s 10th Anniversary showcasing an incredible diverse lineup of Queens-based dance companies. Please note the start time for this show is a bit earlier than the others, starting at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, August 18th, 7:30 p.m. Movies Under The Stars – School of Rock. Jack Black stars as a substitute teacher who turns his private school pupils into a classic-rock band in this entertaining comedy.

It’s going to be a great 2023 at the Forest Park Bandshell and a terrific year of centennial celebrations for Forest Park in 2024!

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