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Carousel Shut Down

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 16, 2007

The historic 1911 Herschell-Spillman “Menagerie Edition” carousel at Tilden Park was closed earlier this month after state officials said that under state law it is unsafe without a guard fence around it. 

Every year the Tilden Carousel—one of only two of its kind still operating—gets 150,000 visitors who come to enjoy its hand-carved and painted animals and its irreplaceable band organs. 

It recently won $97,000 in grant money for floor and organ restoration as one of the 25 historic sites in the Bay Area competing for the American Express Partners in Preservation grant award. 

Jeff Wilson, unit manager for Tilden Park, said that the Park District was working to comply with the state safety standards. 

“We are buying temporary fencing that meets the state requirement. If that doesn’t work out then the district will fabricate its own fencing. We want the carousel to be safe and running before March,” he said. 

Wilson added that the grant money would also replace the raggedy curtains in the carousel building with a permanent glass case. 

Carousel operator Terri Holleman—who has leased the ride from the East Bay Regional Park (EBRP) for the last 15 years—disputed the existence of a mandate for a barrier. 

“The same California code which mandates that a barrier be built between the amusement ride and its riders also states that rides installed before 1993 are exempt from it,” she said. “But the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) is enforcing the suggestion that a fence be put around the carousel and we are complying with it.” 

According to Dean Fryer, spokesperson for DOSH, the California Code of Regulations states that all permanent rides are required to have a barrier between the public and the ride.  

He said the law “states that in the case of rides installed before 1993, the structure itself can be grandfathered in, but the lack of a barrier cannot be grandfathered in. This means that if the Tilden carousel had a fence prior to 1993, we wouldn’t have asked for any changes to it. But this is not the case.” 

The agency first asked Holleman to install the fence in 2005 and has repeated the request twice since then, Fryer said. 

“We are not asking something out of the ordinary here,” he said. “It’s basic public safety. But Holleman just thumbed her nose at it even though she was out of compliance with the law.” 

Holleman said DOSH’s inspectors had asked her to put up a fence in the past but that they had always added that it was not mandatory for the 94-year-old carousel. 

A surprise visit by DOSH inspectors during the carousel’s annual Christmas program in December led to a report that expedited the need for the fence. 

“I had 12 ride operators helping me during Christmas but even then it got really crazy,” Holleman said. “When the inspectors came in, the people were crowding in around the carousel. We striped out a caution line 20 inches behind the first red line but people were still crossing over.” 

According to her, the inspectors wrote up a report that described the situation as complete mayhem and told Holleman that she had 30 days to put up a fence. 

Holleman closed the carousel and told the parks district it had to install a safety fence. “As a concessionaire, I simply lease the ride from the park district. I can’t just walk in and put the fence up,” she said. “EBRP is now responsible for the fence and until that’s installed, the ride will stay closed.” 

Austene Hall, a boardmember of Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), described the carousel as a “cultural icon.” 

“BAHA will support the Tilden carousel in keeping it running,” she told the Planet on Thursday. 

“It’s a really important structure, not just structurally, but also culturally,” she said. “People who grew up in Berkeley have fond memories of it. They now bring their children and their children’s children to enjoy this beautiful work of art.” 

Dan Horenberger, caretaker for the Tilden carousel for the last 20 years and editor of the Carousel News and Trader Magazine, told the Planet that DOSH was gradually destroying the business for independent carousel owners. Alterations have been made at carousels at the San Francisco Zoo and the Seaport Village in San Diego. Recently, Disneyland traded their original 1920’s Dentzel carousel for a newer model. 

“Carousels are being protected all over the world except in California,” Horenberger said. “DOSH fails to understand that antique carousels don’t comply to modern standards. There are a lot of private operators who cannot afford, see the need for or agree to the upgrades that DOSH wants of their carousels. As a result they are either closing down or moving out of state.” 

Fryer said that this was not the case. 

“Coming into compliance with state codes is not a huge request,” he said. “These are pieces of machinery that are moving. The fence helps to add a line of safety and keep the crowds back.” 

Fryer pointed out that a plexi-glass fence had recently been put around the Golden Gate Park carousel. “The fence doesn’t need to be an eyesore,” he said. “The only requirement is that it needs to be 42 inches high. It can easily be blended to fit the aesthetics of the surrounding area.”