Monday, February 22, 2016

A Round-up Of Horses - The W.E. Mason Carousel at Oak Meadows Park, Los Gatos, CA

This is the first in a series about antique carousels in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The W.E. Bill Mason Carousel in Oak Meadow Park, Los Gatos was originally manufactured by a British company (Savage Brothers Ltd) in 1910. It rotates clockwise, with the left side of the horse facing outward, (same as driving on the left) and so was called a roundabout instead of a merry-go-round or carousel. Carousels manufactured in the USA rotate counterclockwise. This is just one of the many tidbits I picked up researching carousels.

Here's another tidbit; the outside of the outer horse is called the "romance side" because that is the side most visible to spectators. The romance side has more ornamentation, often including glass-paste jewels or a  carved animal on the trappings.

When this roundabout was manufactured, the Savage company wasn't doing too well and they were getting near the end of their inventory of carved horses. So they rounded up horses from other manufacturers and produced a carousel of dissimilar horses. For instance, the outside row has horses carved by Gustave Bayol, France's most famous carousel carver. The middle row horses had to be replaced sometime in the 1930s. That row now has five horses by CW Parker, two by Charles Dare and two by Armitage-Herschel. The inside row has horses by G&L Lines.
What does this mean? It means that the style of horse in each row is completely different, which I believe is unusual for most carousels.

Look at the above picture. Do you see the sign? "So sorry, ladies must ride astride!" Women in the early 20th century were still expected to sit sidesaddle and wear a skirt.

By the way, this roundabout was originally created for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition held in San Francisco in 1915. After the exhibition, the roundabout was sold to a traveling circus. In the 1930s, it was sold to the Foley & Burk Shows traveling carnival. It was retired in 1967 and given a new life in 1980 when it was purchased by the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and brought to Oak Meadow Park.  An all volunteer team spent ten years restoring the horses and machinery. Local artists painted panels to hide the inner machinery and complete this work of art.

They even added a replicated Wurlitzer organ to make it more authentic. (future blog about carousels and Wurlitzer organs coming soon).  Unfortunately, the organ is a bit fragile so they usually play recorded music.

There are 30 horses in all (one inside one a replica made of fiberglass) and two carriages. You will usually see at least one carriage on an antique carousel; they were originally placed there for those who wanted a calmer ride.

 And one more tidbit - some of the horses have tails made of real horsehair, like this one.

You can visit the Bill Mason Carousel in Oak Meadows Park and ride the carousel for just $2.

Winter Schedule: November 1 to March 14th, Sat and Sun 11 to 3.
Spring Schedule: March 15 - June 7, Sat and Sun 10:30 to 4:30
Summer Schedule: June 8 - August 15, Daily 10:30  to 4:30
Fall Schedule: Aug 16 - Oct 31, Sat and Sun 10:30 to 4:30

Directions to Oak Meadow Park: 233 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos, CA 95032.

Besides the carousel, there is also a miniature steam engine you can ride that has its own interesting history.

If you'd like to learn more about carousels; stay tuned, more blogs are forthcoming.


NancyB said...

I visited that carousel while it was undergoing restoration...many moons ago. My family lives in Walnut Creek.

Karen Gough said...

Then hopefully you enjoyed seeing photos of the restored carousel. :-) Thanks for commenting Nancy!