January 15, 2011 in City

Carousel donation spurs group

Amusement ride’s location set for talks next week
By The Spokesman-Review
File photo

This 1972 photo shows a carousel that spun at the Coeur d’Alene shoreline until the amusement park closed in 1975. An Eagle, Idaho, couple plans to buy the ride from its current owners and donate it to the community.
(Full-size photo)

Supporters of bringing a historic carousel back to Coeur d’Alene plan to meet next week to begin planning how, when and where it can happen.

Richard LeFrancis, a history buff who long has wanted to see the attraction return, said the group he’s assembling will be open to all suggestions.

While he expects some good ideas to emerge, his preference is to place the 89-year-old carousel in a new addition to the Museum of North Idaho building on Northwest Boulevard, assuming the museum is able to relocate as planned.

“It’s an amazing thing when a community has a major piece of their history leave and come back,” LeFrancis said Friday.

The carousel was part of the Playland Pier waterfront amusement park at Independence Point, near downtown. The park opened in 1942 and was destroyed in a 1975 fire.

John and Pat Foote of Eagle, Idaho, have agreed to pay $250,000 for the 20-horse machine and donate it to the city.

John Foote, 66, a retired real estate developer, said he decided to buy it after learning during a Christmas visit to Coeur d’Alene that the antique was for sale.

“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. “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 fairs in the Midwest. His father, Don C. Foote, also had a carousel at his Wonderland Amusement Park in Billings 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, 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 money 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.

LeFrancis said the city would need to approve any proposal to place the carousel on city property, such as in a park. The idea, however, is to operate it at no expense to the city.

The Footes, who plan to spend their summers in Coeur d’Alene, 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, who worked summers at Playland Pier, graduated from Coeur d’Alene High School in 1954. The Perrons bought the carousel in 1987 at an auction in Puyallup, Wash., and spent $125,000 restoring it.

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 schoolchildren to name the carousel.

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