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Griffith Park Carousel; A Piece of American History Print E-mail
Written by Roland Hopkins   
Monday, 24 March 2008

The Four-Row Spillman/Looff Carousel Has Retained its Location Since 1937 in Griffith Park.  It is A Piece of American History

A brief history of Griffith Park

Long before its growth into a major city of millions of people, a man named Griffith Jenkins Griffith could see not only the potential growth, but also the need for a major park.Griffith felt the need for “a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file.”  It is said that as a Christmas gift in December 1896, he deeded five-square-miles of rancho lands to the City of Los Angeles to be used for a public park in his name.
Griffith Park has become the largest urban municipal park in the United States. In addition to the historic carousel, the park hosts everything from an observatory and ampitheatre to golf courses, pony rides, picnic areas, the adjoining zoo and much more.  The city park estimates that up to 10 million visitors, comprised of both tourists and residents from the Los Angeles and surrounding communities, visit the park annually.


The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round boasts four rows with 68 jumping horses and two chariots.  The beautifully carved and jeweled horses from the Spillman Engineering Company, which built the mechanism, are joined by numerous elaborate Looff figures.  It is said that in the heyday of carousel manufacturing, one company would purchase figures from another to fill orders on time.

The Griffith Park carousel also remains in about as close to original paint as any in the country.  Only the Kit Carson PTC #6 Carousel in Colorado can rival such a historic machine with such original paint.  Another distinction of the Griffith carousel are the ceiling panels.  Where most carousels are open to the mechanics above, Griffith Park has a ornately painted interior roof to protect the riders.  A huge Stinson 165 band organ provides the music.

As legend has it, Walt Disney used to bring his children to Griffith Park quite often.  It is believed that these visits, as well as visits to the Davis’s Lincoln Park carousel, were great inspirations to Disney’s idea and design of Disneyland.  There was also another classic amusement park in Los Angeles, Beverly Park, which likely influenced Disney.

According to John’s transcripts, his father Ross and Walt Disney became very close friends, and Walt relied on Ross’s judgement in many cases.

When Disney was ready to go ahead with the park and looking for his carousel centerpiece, it was Ross and John who delivered the classic Dentzel machine to him from Canada.  Walt was happy with the beautiful carvings, but he wanted a four-row machine and all jumping horses.  
The outer-row standers and the menagerie were removed.  Ross and John got the machine set up.  Arrow Development took care of some of the engineering, including new crankshafts and platforms for the new four-abreast.  

The Davis’s searched all over to find proper jumpers to occupy the re-configured ride.  “Disney had bought a batch of figures [himself, to help populate the ride],” John said.  “Dad took some figures for the work we did repairing and repainting some of those [for Disney] that were in horrible shape...they criticized us for using fiberglass to fix them, but we were operators not collectors.”

Roland Hopkins
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