Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Carousel Ride To The Past

Carousel Ride To The Past
City Brass Takes a Merry-Go-Round Ride
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Shawn Lum, Vacaville Museum director, rides the Nut Tree Family Park Carousel at Barrango Inc. headquarters in South San Francisco. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

It's not every day that the mayor rides a tiger.

But at Tuesday's unveiling of the custom-built carousel which will grace the plaza of the new Nut Tree Family park, Mayor Len Augustine was among dozens of Vacaville officials and council members who enthusiastically hopped aboard its 32 hand-painted horses and "menagerie animals," including ostriches, flamingos, frogs and zebras.

"We've all had this vision together about what we wanted (at the Nut Tree site)," Augustine said of those in attendance. "So to see it become reality and to see this beautiful carousel is just overwhelming."

Vice Mayor Pauline Clancy agreed.

Jeff Watts, artistic director at Barrango Inc., paints a horse on Tuesday during a media event which unveiled the Nut Tree Family Park Carousel and offered a sneak preview of what's to come to the new Nut Tree Family Park.

"It really takes you back to when you were a child. It's magical," remarked Clancy, who test-rode one of the carousel's wheelchair-accessible chariots. "I feel so fortunate that something so unique and wonderful will be located in our hometown."

First unveiled Tuesday in the South San Francisco factory where it was built by Barrango Inc.'s artisans over a five-month period, the carousel is reminiscent of wooden Dentzel carousels popular in the mid- to late-1800s.

Its 12 rounding boards - the decorative ovals located on the carousel's upper outside portion beneath its canopy - are paintings of the Nut Tree's past, recreated from photos obtained from the Vacaville Museum. Images include The Pied Piper with children on hobby horses, the ice cream pavilion, the Harbison House and waitresses at the Nut Tree Airport.

"They did a beautiful job," said Shawn Lum, director of the Vacaville Museum, as she rode the carousel. "It's a good use of the history, to take a photograph and actually incorporate it into the new experience."

Upon seeing the carousel at the entrance to the Family Park, people are "going to know that they've not only stepped back in time, but they're going to have a great experience with their family," said Lori Cowen, the project's manager from master developer Snell & Co.

The 3.7-acre park - part of the redevelopment efforts under way on the historic, 76-acre Nut Tree site - will feature a boat pond modeled after the one in Paris' Luxembourg Gardens, where children can push wooden boats with sticks, along with family-oriented amusement rides including "I-80 Traffic Jammers" bumper cars, the "Harvest Express" roller coaster, and the "Nut Tree Flight School" airplane ride.

"What a great place it's going to be," said Augustine. "You can take I-80 from New York City to San Francisco, and I guarantee you there'll be nothing like this anywhere."

The admission-free park - which is scheduled to open after Labor Day - will incorporate important Nut Tree icons.

Replicas of the hobby horses will abound, the original ice cream pavilion will function as the ticket booth, and the original Nut Tree train - which is being refurbished and will feature graphics identical to those from the Nut Tree restaurant - will traverse 1,700 feet of the park.

Additionally, a museum focused on Nut Tree and California history will be located in the center of the park in the Harbison House, the Nut Tree founders' original 1907 home. There will also be a birthday building and games building, which will not include video games nor violent games.

"It's a throwback to yesteryear," Cowen explained.

And it's very much meant to link the Nut Tree's past to its future, noted Kirk Smith, the Family Park's general manager.

"For years and years," he said, "dating back to July 3, 1921 - the first official day that the Nut Tree was in business - the Nut Tree was famous for providing unique experiences and memories for families and individuals that really last a lifetime."

Nut Tree memories, Smith noted, are nearly always recounted with passion, emotion and nostalgia.

The carousel, he said, is just the first example of how the Family Park will carry forward "that history and that nostalgia and that emotion into the new Nut Tree for a new generation."

Augustine remarked, "I can picture my granddaughter on there already."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

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