Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Spokane's Treasure: The Looff Carrousel

By Kris Krell

Spokane’s Treasure:  The Looff Carrousel

Continued from last week…

So how did the Looff Carousel find its home in Spokane, Washington?  

Washington Water Power Company (WWP), wanted to promote trolleys so they opened Twickenham Park in 1893 (later to become Natatorium Park) with their partner Spokane Street Railway.  The Ingersoll Amusement Company, who operated the park for owners WWP, commissioned the carrousel in 1907 with no money down.   Looff also designed and built the famous Coney Island carousel.  Ingersoll and Looff had a deal for WWP to buy the carousel for the park.  

Looff built the carousel in his Rhode Island workshop, but before it was completed, WWP had to revoke the deal as The Ingersoll Amusement Company had gone bankrupt because of the Panic of 1907, and WWP was burdened with debt because of the Ingersol bankruptcy,  Neither could afford the $20,000 cost of building and shipping of the carousel, so Looff shipped it to Spokane in pieces in 1909, and gave it to his daughter, Emma Vogel, and her husband, Louis Vogel, as a wedding gift.  The carousel sat in crates in the railway yards for months.  

Looff’s daughter, Emma, had recently moved to Spokane with her husband, a banker.  Charles Looff told WWP that he would cancel the $20,000 debt and release the carousel if WWP would make the Vogels the park’s concessionaires.  WWP liked this arrangement, and the park opened July 18, 1909, with the Looff Carrousel as the Park’s newest attraction.  The Vogels purchased Natatorium Park in 1929.  

The Carrousel featured 54 beautifully unique carved and painted horses, two “chariot-benches”, a giraffe, a goat, a tiger--which according to Bette Largent, the artist in charge of restoring and maintaining the carrousel--is very rare.  Largent calls the tiger “sneaky” because the head is looking down.  As of 2009, there were only three of these “sneakys” remaining.  The Carrousel also had a state-of-the-art German “band organ” by Ruth and Sons, with 300 pipes, manufactured in Waldkirch, Germany and imported by Looff around 1900.  The organ is similar to a player piano as it played music automatically using folded book music.  Every year a new music book arrived with the most current tunes.

A March 14, 2016, article, “Collector donates an early Looff horse to Spokane’s Carrousel”, by The Spokesman Review, discusses Jack, a horse who was most likely carved in 1886—which would make Jack about 20 years older than Spokane’s 1909 Carrousel.  

Jack is a fixed-in-place prancing horse built for the inside ring of a carousel.  They know that Jack is an early carving by Looff because of the carving of the front leg muscles.  Jack was on at least three other carousels at Coney Island and Feltman’s Pavilion in New York’s entertainment destination.  As of this newspaper article above, Jack was valued at between $7,500 and $8,500.  

The outside ring of horses are called “jumpers” and most everybody wanted an outside horse.  When technology was developed to make the animals on the inside ring move up and down, that development was made to attract riders to the inside ring.

The Spokesman Review, The Man Who Saved the Carrousel, April 18, 1996, 
The Spokeman Review, Collector Donates an early Loooff horse to Spokane’s Carrousel, March 14, 2016, 
The Spokesman Review, Artist’s touch keeps 100-year old Carrousel looking young, March 20, 2009, 
The Spokesman Review, Horsing around, July 12, 2009

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