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Couple donating carousel back to Coeur d’Alene

Fri., Jan. 14, 2011, 10:23 a.m.

John and Pat Foote will purchase and donate to the community the carousel that spun merriment and memories on the city's shoreline.  Photo taken in 1972.  (Photo Archive / The Spokesman-Review)
John and Pat Foote will purchase and donate to the community the carousel that spun merriment and memories on the city's shoreline. Photo taken in 1972. (Photo Archive / The Spokesman-Review)
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version that appeared in Friday’s edition.

A beloved relic of Coeur d’Alene’s past is coming home.

The carousel that spun merriment and memories on the city’s shoreline will be purchased and donated to the community by a couple in Eagle, Idaho.

John and Pat Foote, who plan to spend their summers in Coeur d’Alene, have agreed to pay $250,000 for the 20-horse machine that entertained children and families at Playland Pier from the 1940s to the 1970s.

John Foote, 66, a retired real estate developer, said he decided to buy the old carousel sight unseen after reading a news article about it while visiting Coeur d’Alene over the holidays.

“Isn’t it more fun to see your money used for happiness rather than hoarding it? That’s what this is all about,” he said in a phone interview today. “It’s time to give back.”

There’s also some nostalgia on his part. Foote’s grandfather, John W. Foote, owned a carousel around 1900 and operated it at country fairs in the Midwest. His father, Don C. Foote, also had a carousel at his Wonderland Amusement Park in Billings, Mont., from 1949 to 1960. John Foote remembers riding and working on that carousel as a child and teenager.

He said he hopes to see the old Coeur d’Alene carousel up and running again within the next couple of years. As for how that happens, and where, Foote said he’ll leave that up to the community.

But he added his intention is that no taxpayer money be spent on the project. He said he’d like to see a private foundation or nonprofit organization raise the money needed to erect a building for the carousel and operate it. Foote said he will lend $50,000 to jumpstart that effort.

“I think it’s going to take off like a prairie fire,” he said.

The Footes have put a $50,000 down payment on the carousel, which they are buying from Duane and Carol Perron, an Oregon couple who restored the attraction. The Perrons own 21 carousels and operate the International Museum of Carousel Art in Hood River, Ore.

Carol Perron grew up in Coeur d’Alene and has longed to see the Playland carousel spin again in the Lake City, her husband said Thursday.

Built in 1922 in New York, the carousel is a “jewel” Duane Perron said.

“I’m packing it at the moment,” he said. “I want to get it delivered over there.”

The carousel, which has traveled around the U.S. and Canada in recent years, sat at Playland Pier, a waterfront amusement park at what is now Independence Point between City Park and the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Playland opened in 1942 and for three decades offered such attractions as a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, a roller coaster, a miniature train, a swing ride and a penny arcade. By 1975 it was shuttered, and fire destroyed it one night that December.

But the carousel survived.

It had been built by Stillman Engineering Corp. in North Tonawanda, N.Y., during the golden age of carousels. During the early 1900s, trolley companies installed carousels at the end of their lines to generate ridership on the weekends.

The popularity of carousels died out during the cash-strapped days of the Great Depression.

Bette Largent, a Spokane woman who is president of the National Carousel Association and who has done extensive work on Spokane’s Looff Carrousel, said it would be great to have the Playland Pier carousel back in Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s a unique machine,” she said. “There are generations of folks in Coeur d’Alene who can remember riding it on Coeur d’Alene’s lakefront.”

The Spillman has a 32-foot diameter on the deck, making it about half the size of Riverfront Park’s Looff, she said. She rode it in 2004, when it was on display in Portland.

“It’s always been a dream to get it back home,” Largent said. “One more carousel helps us all.”

The Perrons bought the carousel in 1987 at an auction in Puyallup, Wash., and spent $125,000 restoring it. They also have done some restoration work on the Looff Carrousel.

Carol Perron graduated from Coeur d’Alene High School in 1954. As a youngster, she spent her summers working at Playland Pier.

The couple attempted to return it to Coeur d’Alene a decade ago, but the financing didn’t materialize.

John Foote, a University of Montana graduate, developed the Billings Commerce Center and has sold all of the buildings in that project. He and his wife plan to split their time between a new residence in Coeur d’Alene and a home they have in Phoenix.

Foote said he’d like to see a contest held among Coeur d’Alene school children to name the carousel.

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