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Doug Clark: No wonder Walt Disney wanted Spokane’s Looff Carrousel

Riverfront Park, a friend observed the other day, is as important to Spokane as Disneyland is to Anaheim.

If that’s the case – and I can’t disagree – then you could argue that the Looff Carrousel is our Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

A year after Expo ’74, the handcrafted merry-go-round was moved out of mothballs and into the building that housed the fair’s German Beer Garden.

The ride since then has enjoyed main attraction status, thrilling millions of riders of every age and fanny shape.

Why, the Clark family alone has logged enough circular mileage to equal several commutes to Cheney.

Last summer, my toddler of a granddaughter, Ronan, thoroughly enjoyed her first Riverfront spin. Not quite ready for the saddle, she perched on one of the benches, safely sandwiched between mom and dad.

Ah, but the Carrousel closed last month. All the hand-carved circus critters and its vintage A. Ruth & Sohn band organ have been disassembled and protectively ensconced in bubble-wrap and padding.

The good news is that by Valentine’s Day next year, the clanging attraction should be back and spinning in a fabulous new building as part of the huge Riverfront Park makeover.

The new Carrousel digs will feature better concessions, three rooms for private parties and a stellar view of the river.

“It’s going to be modern and beautiful with lots of glass,” said Cheryl Sieveke, the park operations manager.

And in a nod to nostalgia, she said a section of the building will incorporate some of the copper shingles that will soon be salvaged from the border of the old Carrousel headquarter’s roof.

Each shingle is customized with the stamped image of a Carrousel horse, which brings us to two Spokane women: Donna McArthur and Cherrie Rodrigue.

They are daughters of a sometime minister and jack-of-all-trades who died from cancer in 1994.

Al Jerome was also the guy who stamped the horses and made thousands of other non-embossed copper shingles that once covered the Carrousel building’s roof.

“Not an easy job!” wrote McArthur in an email, adding that she recalls visiting him one day at work. “A senior in his mid-70s, he sat hour after hour, day after day, stamping a horse on each shingle, one by one.”

McArthur and Rodrigue are on a gentle mission. They’d like their dad to be remembered for the small part he played in the Carrousel’s rich history.

It would be a sweet gesture if Al Jerome’s name appeared somewhere in the new roundabout headquarters.

Just as long as Joe Zappone is given top billing, that is.

Zappone, the owner/operator of Zappone Manufacturing, was Jerome’s boss.

Still going strong, Zappone is an expert in metal roofing and the generous guy who made the copper roof happen.

Zappone got a kick out of McArthur’s recollection of her father making all those Carrousel shingles.

“He was a prince of a man,” said Zappone, who considered Jerome a good friend. “You couldn’t get a better employee.”

McArthur describes her dad as a guy “full of jokes and full of tricks. He kept us laughing and never lost his sense of humor.”

So here’s the story about all those copper shingles.

In early 1983, Zappone, along with the New York-based Copper Development Association, donated a new $40,000 copper roof to the City of Spokane.

Zappone even agreed to spray the copper shingles with a coating to prevent oxidation.

Some 8,000 shingles eventually covered the Carrousel building’s dome-like roof, with another 800 embossed with the horse design for the border.

In a crowning touch, Kim Reidt, an artist who worked for Zappone, designed a copper horse that topped the Carrousel building like a spire.

In June 1983, the copper-topped building was dedicated in a public ceremony that drew U.S. Rep. Tom Foley, who gave a speech, and Spokane Mayor Jim Chase, who put on the symbolic last shingle, according to Zappone.

So many names and contributions get washed away with years. That’s life, I guess. But if you’re keeping score at home, here are a few more carrousel tidbits to consider until your next ride.

  • Shipped here in 1909 as a wedding present, the Carrousel becomes a fan favorite at Spokane’s beloved Natatorium (amusement) Park.
  • Handyman and electrician Bill Oliver inherits the ride in 1965 after Nat Park owner, Lloyd Vogel, dies.
  • Bill Fearn, Spokane’s visionary parks and recreation director, somehow raises $40,000 to buy the Carrousel from Oliver after Nat Park closes in 1968. City Hall cynics dub the purchase “Fearn’s Folly.”
  • “It’s irreplaceable,” declares former Riverfront Park Manager Hal McGlathery in 1996. “If there were anything that would hurt the city’s heart if it were gone, it is the Carrousel.”
  • In the early 1950s, Walt Disney tries – and fails – to buy the Nat Park merry-go-round for this under-construction amusement park he calls Disneyland.

Well, whataya know. The Carrousel really is our Mr. Toad’s.

<line4Pwide><QC>Contact the writer:<QC>(509) 459-5432<QC>dougc@spokesman.com<QC>


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