28 March 2008

Los Angeles: The Carousel Connection

Here's a Jewish Journal story with more on the Jewish origins of carousels and merry-go-rounds - this time with an LA connection.

My previous posting in November on all these pretty horses (and more) and their Jewish craftsmen (such as Illions of Vilna) is here.

In a storage yard in Long Beach, painted ponies in rose garlands prance atop a giant wooden disc, waiting for a new owner.

The Illions Supreme Carousel, which twirled riders for decades at the L.A. County Fairgrounds in Pomona, is one of the most elaborate wooden carousels carved at the beginning of the last century by Marcus Charles Illions and his group of Jewish immigrant craftsmen.

If the current owner, a private collector, can't find a buyer for the carousel -- a city, museum or amusement park -- the historic specimen of Jewish Americana could end up broken apart or shipped to Dubai, where the amusement park industry is flourishing and the weak dollar makes American cast-offs a bargain.

The Illions Supreme isn't the only Jewishly carved carousel in jeopardy. On April 23 in Auberndale, Fla., Norton Auctioneers will take bids on a Coney Island merry-go-round created by European craftsmen trained in the art of carving Torah arks and bimahs.

The 45-foot diameter merry-go-round, carved in 1909 in the shop of William F. Mangels, with horses, giraffes, goats, camels and chariots, has been owned and operated by the same family for 93 years. It is expected to draw at least $500,000, but the auction has no minimum opening bid. Individual horses will not be sold to antiques collectors.

Illions Supremes are considered the most elaborate carousels ever carved according to Carousel News editor Roland Hopkins. The Supreme which ran for 40 years at the LA County Fairgrounds through the 1980s is worth some $5 million. Illions carved only three in this category and this is the only one remaining. Daniel Horenberger of Brass Ring Entertainment in Sun Valley is selling the carousel for the private owner.

The wildly animated menageries and chariots are adorned with more than 10,000 pieces of gold leaf. Among those horses is the American Beauty Rose horse, a gold-maned white mare dripping with colorful roses featured on the cover of "Painted Ponies," the definitive book about carousels.

Today, new carousels are made of fiberglass, often from molds made from the wooden classics. Many of the 200 extant antique carousels are owned by cities or big parks and are thus protected, but many others, such as the Illions, are in private hands and could be sold at any time.

Horenberger restores carousels at a Long Beach shop and is trying to find a home for these two carousels. "The Skirball Cultural Center expressed some interest in the Illions Supreme, occupancy restrictions and space limitations preclude operating a 50-foot diameter carousel." The center's permanent exhibit does include two Illion carved lions from a Torah ark.

The Jewish immigrant carvers created synagogue ritual objects such as brightly painted wooden arks and bimas for Europe's fame wooden synagogues and for synagogues in the New World's new communities, such as New York City.

The Illions connection came about because he moved to Southern California at the end of his career and brought the Supreme with him, settling it at the Fairgrounds.

The article also talks about the relationships of Marcus Charles Illions, Looff, William Mangel, Charles Carmel, Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein. Carmel and Looff's carvings are on the 1926 Griffith Park carousel. Mangels built the about-to-be-auctioned carousel in Florida but it operated in Pennsylvania for many years before it was moved.

For more information, the story points to:

Brass Ring Entertainment
Carousel News and Trade
Norton Auctioneers
Skirball Cultural Center

1 comment:

  1. There is even a play about these fairground carvers in the UK - see:


    Perhaps we can find some family links?

    Celia Male U.K.