On Saturday, Raleigh will reopen the historic carousel that's been a centerpiece of Chavis Park for decades. Officials hope that more families from across the city will flock here as they do nearby Pullen Park.
Chavis Park, recently renamed John Chavis Memorial Park, has a lot going for it. There's a seasonal pool, an aging playground, community center, open space, a track and, now, the renovated historic carousel. But the park, just south of downtown Raleigh, has gone through some hard years.
In past posts, I've written about some of the issues.
Ridership on the carousel before the renovation was low compared to Pullen Park even before its upgrade and reopening in 2011. On a visit in 2010 with my older daughter, we saw broken beer bottles, overflowing garbage cans and a man walking across the park with a bottle of malt liquor. On another day, we hopped on the carousel about 30 minutes before it closed. We were the first ones to ride it all day. Check out my past posts about the park in the box above.
But Richard Costello, director of amusements for Raleigh parks, and other city leaders have high hopes for the park, positioned so close to downtown that you can see the skyline as you ride on the carousel.
The reopening celebration will highlight the $1.8 million project that moved the carousel from the back of the park to the front entrance off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and also included utility and lighting work. The carousel now sits on a hill between the community center and seasonal pool.
The previous carousel house was open air with a wood chip floor that kicked up dust. The new space, similar in design to the carousel house at Pullen Park, is completely enclosed and climate controlled to protect the carousel and its collection of horses and chariots. (I love the set of mini-ponies, which are perfect for young kids who might be too little to ride a big horse on their own. I bench is right next to them for parents.).
"It's going to really ensure the carousel animals and the machine itself will be around forever," said Costello, who likes to call carousels "interactive museum pieces."
The carousel was built around 1916 and moved to Chavis Park in 1937. The park was originally built for the African American community, which, at the time, did not have full access to Pullen Park, according to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission's website.
The carousel had been a traveling ride, designed to be quickly assembled and disassembled so it could easily move from state fair to carnival. It's position at carnivals and fairs also explains why, in many ways, it's flashier and more ornate than the carousel at Pullen Park.
Light bulbs ring the rounding boards. The band organ is painted with a colorful scene. And a specialist discovered stenciling on the sweep arms, which are the long pieces above the horses, during the recent renovations.
The city made other improvements to the carousel as well, adding brass and cups to catch the grease that once ran down the poles and gathered in globs at the bottom where people sit.
There's also a new deck, replacing the original deck which had about an inch gap between each of the slats. Costello said young children sometimes got their feet stuck in the spaces and it was difficult for women wearing heels.
"It was a trip hazard," he said.
But what really makes the carousel pop is its light, airy new home. The old carousel house sat down in a valley under tall trees. It was dark.
"The colors of this carousel now really jump out at you," Costello said.
The grand reopening is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday. All rides on the carousel will be free on Saturday. The dedication is 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, and will be followed by music, activities and other activities.
In the last couple of years, the city has worked to bring more community events to the park. Costello said there are more plans for summer concerts and possibly a movie series in the fall.
And as the carousel reopens, the city and community are in the midst of the Chavis Park Community Conversation, a process that seeks ideas for other amenities and improvements at the park, among other goals.
There's more work to be done at Chavis.
The Chavis Park carousel will be open daily during the spring and summer season. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., weekdays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays. Rides on the carousel are free on Saturdays. After that, it's $1 per person.