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Carousel for Canalside’s future revolves closer to reality

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president when the 31 lavishly carved animals last went up and down on the spinning, three-row wooden carousel while lights sparkled and circus music played.

Now, the carousel could start again soon after another president takes office in 2017.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. wants the rare 1924 park-style carousel – which has sat in storage for the last 60 years – at Canalside.

At the same time, the agency said that it will be up to Buffalo Heritage Carousel, a local not-for-profit, to raise the $600,000 needed to restore and then show off the attraction.

The waterfront agency’s decision followed an offer last month by the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation to buy the carousel with the stipulation that it be located there. The decision allowed the foundation to meet the owner’s Wednesday deadline with a $25,000 nonreturnable deposit to purchase the carousel.

“A historic carousel of this importance to this community is so consistent with our guiding principles,” said Robert D. Gioia, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development.

“This tells the unique culture and history of Buffalo. We want the carousel someplace in Canalside, and this allows us the time to determine the location in a timely fashion.”

“This may be one of the last menagerie, park-style carousels produced by the Spillman Engineering Co., and we’re so excited that it can come home to Buffalo and be a gem of Canalside,” said Laurie A. Hauer-LaDuca, the Buffalo Heritage Carousel member who located the rare attraction.

“We’re also excited and overwhelmed by the response the carousel has received.”

The Wendt Foundation’s $250,000 grant allows Buffalo Heritage Carousel to own and operate the attraction, but is contingent on the group raising the $600,000 needed for restoration. The amusement ride is stored at Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, which would reglue, redowl and repaint the carousel back to a gleaming appearance.

Erie Canal Harbor Development’s decision requires the local group to also raise funds for the building that would house it year-round, and an adjacent space for children’s parties, educational exhibit and gift shop. The building design and cost have not yet been determined.

The need for the group to raise the additional money was reinforced by Sam Hoyt, a member of the waterfront agency’s board.

“We think this would be a great new attraction at Canalside. That said, we consider it the sponsoring organization’s responsibility to raise the money to fund the project,” Hoyt said.

A carousel and children’s museum were both recommended for the waterfront in a cultural master plan issued in October 2011 by consultants hired by the waterfront agency.

A location for the carousel is expected to be determined in the coming weeks. The Wendt Foundation’s preference would be to have it near the planned children’s museum.

The park-style carousel coming to Canalside is one of only a small number like it still in existence.

Herschell-Spillman and three related companies, including Spillman Engineering, made about 3,000 portable carousels in North Tonawanda, but fewer than 20 of the fancier park-style machines, according to Hauer-LaDuca.

The Buffalo carousel would be just the tenth operating in the United States.

Adding some local flavor, Carousel Works would carve a handicapped-accessible Erie Canal barge to replace a missing chariot, and include a buffalo and a mule. Restoration is expected to take 18 months.

History would be a big part of the carousel experience. The region’s role as one of the handful of carousel-making centers during the industry’s heyday would be celebrated.

The use of solar power would highlight Western New York’s history of using renewable energy, including hydropower at Niagara Falls.

The carousel has had only one owner in 91 years.

The ride was purchased by Italian immigrant Domenick DeAngelis for a carnival in Massachusetts. It went into storage in 1954, after the land was taken over by the state to build a school, and two years after DeAngelis died.

The carousel has remained in the DeAngelis family, and it’s been their desire to see it returned to public use.

Unlike what happened with many of the vintage machines, the family has rejected offers in the past to sell the figures off piecemeal.

Now, the nearly century-old whimsical family attraction stands poised to become a waterfront attraction – and magnet for children of all ages – for years to come.