Restored Carousel the focus of Oaks Park’s birthday bash

Other than scads of free parking, fun rides and low prices – there’s another reason to take the family to this terrific summer family amusement park …

With the help of ladies from the Mrs. Oregon Pageant, off come the coverings from the newly-refinished Oaks Park Carousel characters.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While the planners at Portland Electric Power Company, the City’s trolley line operator a century ago, hoped that an amusement park at Oaks Bottom would attract riders and land development, they probably didn’t guess that Oaks Amusement Park would still be going strong 105 years later.

Now run by the nonprofit Oaks Park Association, this family attraction celebrated its birthday on June 6 by taking the wraps off its fully-restored 1920s era Spillman Menagerie Carousel.

Each standing by a newly-refinished steed, ladies of the Mrs. Oregon Pageant give spectators a first look at the Oaks Park Carousel.

After ladies of the Mrs. Oregon Pageant unveiled the colorful carved figures – ranging from ponies to frogs, zebras and giraffes and benches – visitors got to take a spin.

After a brief ceremony, the association’s CEO, Joe Norling, told us about the carousel, and the restoration that began last November.

“Oaks replaced its original Herschell–Spillman carousel with a newer model, acquired in about 1924,” Norling explained. “The new one was said to have come from an amusement park in the Tri-Cities area.”

About to take the first ride on the newly restored Oaks Park Carousel are (front to back, left to right) Mrs. Eugene, Shakelah Morgan; Mrs. Washington County, Jen Moser; Mrs. Portland, Delicia Wistrand; Mrs. Clackamas County, Angela Hammond; Mrs. Rose City, Mindy Lepin; Mrs. Oregon, Joy Huston; and “Mr. Oaks Park”, Joe Norling, CEO of Oaks Park Association.

Today’s best estimates are that the figures were carved starting in 1912, by the Italian and German woodworkers at the Herschell–Spillman company’s offshoot, Spillman Engineering Corporation. “Our carousel was one of the last to have had its figures carved completely by hand,” Norling said proudly.

Having survived repeated floods, and the theft of a figure in the 1970s, the Oaks Park Carousel was last refinished almost forty years ago — and has only been touched up since then.

Jack Deason, and his dad Peter, enjoy the very first ride on the newly-refinished Oaks Park Carousel.

“It hasn’t ever been restored like we did this time,” declared Norling, “Eight of our staff members took it apart to sand and hand-etch away layers of paint – taking each piece down to bare wood. Because they cleaned into the crevasses, you can really see the detail in the horses’ manes and eyes.”

Where necessary, workers repaired broken pieces, blending them in with the original wood, as they restored the historic carousel to its original grandeur.

The Oaks Park Carousel is recorded in the National Register of Historic Places, and is said to be one of only 200 classic carousels remaining in the world.

Not all the family rides are historic, at Oaks Park. Both adults and kids are enjoying the new Rockin’ Tug ride.

Oaks Park’s Promotion Manager, Emily MacKay, shows of one of the many cakes served to guests celebrating the park’s 105th birthday.

Protects park as a family resource
As for the 105-year-old park itself, “We work to provide the community with a place where families can come and recreate,” Norling said, of Oaks Park’s mission: “We provide safe, wholesome, affordable family fun. And, our mission is our passion.”

Because it is now run by a nonprofit organization, the prices for rides and food are moderate, Norling pointed out. “We want to keep it affordable for families, so we carefully manage our costs, and we’re not greedy. We take just enough to sustain operations and improve the park, not line our pockets.”

The payoff for their hard work and thrifty management? “One of the great things about being here is seeing the beautiful smiling faces of the children – with their parents having fun and looking relaxed.”

Oaks Park remains one of the few places where families can go for big fun, at a reasonable price.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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