Breaking News
More () »

Historic Balboa Park Carousel gets a facelift during COVID closure

The merry-go-round gets fired up for the first time in six months to give Jeff his first ride ever in this Zevely Zone.

SAN DIEGO — When the pandemic forced the closure of amusement park rides and that meant no riders and no revenue for the Balboa Park Carousel. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Balboa Park to see what the historic merry-go-round has been up to during the COVID closure.

When I showed up I was struck by the silence. Those famous Balboa Park ponies haven't taken a run in more than six months. 

"We don't know when we might be able to reopen. The carousel has been quiet from the outside but it has been active on the inside and it's going to look better than ever when you do come back," said John Bolthouse, from the Friends of Balboa Park. 

John agreed to start the merry-go-round for the first time since the spring.

Credit: Balboa Park Carousel

In 2017, Friends purchased the historic Balboa Park Carousel and launched a multi-year $3-million fundraising capital campaign to restore and complete the purchase of the carousel. The campaign recently surpassed the $2.4 million mark, thanks to the community's generosity.

Credit: Balboa Park Carousel

"You're sure it's going to run right now?" I asked.  

John told me, "Oh, I'm positive it's going to. This carousel is great hands with our carousel manager Bill Brown."  

Credit: Balboa Park Carousel

Bill Brown was 16 years old when he started working here. That was 48 years ago. 

"This type of carousel is called a menagerie carousel," said Bill. 

During the COVID closure, Bill was in charge of new lights and a new look. But will it run?

Credit: Balboa Park Carousel

RELATED: A makeover for San Diego's oldest roller coaster

"Three, two, one," Bill counted down before firing it up. 

I watched the old carousel spring to life and yelled, "It's running like a top. Good job Bill!"  

Afterall, it was built in 1910 and carried the likes of Dean Martin, Shirley Jones and Dom Deluise using a 10 horsepower engine that is still running. 

"Yes, yes and it's still working," said Bill with a smile.  

RELATED: Black Swan Gondola at Lake San Marcos

Although the ride sat stagnant since the spring, a $3-million capital campaign is hitting it's stride by reaching $2.4 million and counting. 

"It's like the light at the end of the tunnel after having lived through this pandemic," said  Julie Cowan Novak.  

She is a philanthropist who paid $35,000 to support the history here and renovate one of the wood animals the patrons ride on. She named the old dog Goldie-George in honor of her granddaughter and 100-year-old uncle. 

"It holds great memories for so many San Diego families," said Julie.  

Credit: Balboa Park Carousel

Twelve animals still need to be adopted, among them the zebras, the giraffes, and a reindeer. The merry-go-round hopes to re-open soon and when it does you'll find Julie's smiling face.

I told her, "You're doing a great job because I'm getting bucked off of my horse and you're holding on just fine. This isn't your first rodeo!"

If you'd like to make a donation to help the carousel, the Friends of Balboa Park's Annual Awards Celebration takes place on Oct. 16. Friends of Balboa Park's Annual Awards Celebration honors outstanding contributions and milestone accomplishments by organizations, employees, and volunteers in Balboa Park. 

It is one of Balboa Park's preeminent events, attracting distinguished and dedicated supporters of an essential San Diego historic, cultural, and recreational destination. For more information click here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out