Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cool Things in North Portland: Jantzen Beach Carousel

It's been a week sort of week. You know, nothing special, but a crosscut through daily life: a little rough, a little smooth, a little fun, a little flat, but all in all the sort of everyday family thing that Tolstoy blew off with that bullshit about happy families all being alike?

Yeah, count on an author to go with the quotable rather than the facts.

So we had a sort of hereandthereian weekend, a little home improvement, a little yard work, a little Caillou and a little Kai-lan and some pasta noodles and a toy or three. By Sunday afternoon we needed some out-of-the-house fun and the result was a trip to the Jantzen Beach Mall to ride the great old classic carousel there.Hayden Island today is a tawdry tumble of big-box stores and the Mall, a Seventies atrocity first-generation shopping mall that always looks half deserted and ready to close. Possibly the tawdry-est of touches was the Tale of Waddles.

Waddles was some sort of freaking iconic diner place off of the interstate on Hayden Island. I ate there a couple of times in the Nineties, enh, it was belly timber in an odd little kitschy setting, nothing spectacular. But when it died its natural death it was replaced by...a Hooters.


The original "Excuse me, waiter, but there's a nipple in my buffalo wings" place. The ginormous Hooters sign towers over the approach to the Interstate bridge like a Great Horned Owl perched over a vole run, if a Great Horned Owl was required to wear "nude" colored pantyhose under its teeny, tiny, owl-ass-grabbing, orange short-shorts. Typically, Portlanders piled up a huge thunderhead of emotion over the galvanization of the beloved, yet deserted, Waddles into one in a chain of overpriced breast-themed redneck Budweiser joints and then, when the hurly-burly was done and the day lost and won went back to ignoring the place (outside the rednecks who went for the salty, dry wings, spendy beer and inaccessible young lovelies).

Hmmmm.But Hayden Island's heyday was back between the Wars, when the Jantzen Swimwear company opened the "Jantzen Beach Amusement Park", the biggest Disneyland pre-Disney in the West Coast. It had the whole bijoux: roller coasters, midget racers, a midway, dance hall, name it. Along with the famous carousel. It survived depression, war and flood but was unable to cope with age and the decline of the non-princess-themed amusement park. By 1970 it was Six Flags Over Nothing and was buried under the blacktop of a typical Disco Era mall. Which, in turn, was mostly razed in the Nineties for a big box parking lot. A small part of the old mall lives on, anchored by those retail outlets beloved by those of us who love cheap plastic crap: Burlington Coat Factory, Ross Dress For Less and Target.

The carousel remains, last of the amusement rides, remnant of the old mall, a whirling delight of grandiloquent carved horses and antique showmanship of an earlier time. The Peeper was once terrified of the horses and now clambers aboard with the aplomb of a kindergarten-size gaucho, reeling and bouncing with the music, the speed, and the colors. Little Miss had her first rides today; the very first was a little scary - she wedged in firmly in front of her mommy, clung to the fixed pole, and looked about a little nervously, unsure about all these loud noises and lights and excited people. But by the time it was Daddy's turn she was sold. She chanted "Up and down" every time the wooden hayburner went...ummm...up and down. And when we were done she chanted "More horse rides!" until long after we were back in Bob the Subaru and on the road home. For two bucks, it's a hell of a fun trip; Missy will even tell you so!I didn't bring the camera, more's the pity, so I've thrown in some compensation in the form of little Peep at Columbia Park Annex swinging, and Little Miss in her adorable tractoralls, hand-me-downs from big brother. They sure were sweeties this weekend.

They're dreaming now, hopefully of the twirling horses and the fun of wheeling to the carnival music, and I should be, too. But if you're ever travelling between Seattle and San Francisco and needing a carousel break, now you know where to look.

And tell the girls at Hooter's I sent 'ya.

Update 2/25: Interesting little piece of historical trivia about the carousel I forgot:

Turns out that several of the horses were originally carved with "good luck" swastikas somewhere on their harness or apparel. I was unaware until well into my adulthood of the long pre-Nazi history of the device, although I had seen it on the endpapers of several older volumes of Kipling's writing (he used it as a personal emblem/charm probably because of it's long association with India and Hinduism). So no real surprise that amid all the fantastic ears of corn, shields and animal pelts the carver(s) made a few swastikas.

But after WW2 the swastika-horses were removed from the carousel. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I understand why it was done, but regret the way the owners chose easy capitulation to public sentiment over trying to explain historical fact.


Linda Dove said...

LOVE the old carousel!

Lisa said...

Like Peeper, I too was frightened of the carousel ponies, with their bared teeth and and jauntily cocked heads in frozen position. He, being a boy, surmounted his apprehension.

I think it was seeing them in an old Banacek episode while some evildoing was transpiring, and people were running in between the horses, which made me think the carousel was a frightening place to be. (Do not ask how I know it was a Banacek episode.)

Combine that with a natural fear of white horses and clowns, and anything wearing a mask or that might appear in Mme. Tussauds, and you see why carousels, these lovely art forms, were so frightening to a sensitive young soul. (You see why people who dissemble are so untenable to me.)

But it is interesting how these things persist juxtaposed against modernity, creating odd and sometimes garish mash ups. But for kids who like it, I'm glad the carousel stands.

FDChief said...

Linda: me, too!

Lisa: It is a bit Grand Guignol when you think of it that way, isn't it? But the carved horses really are wonderful craftsmanship.

Oh, and your new snapshot? Tres charmant!

Lisa said...

Yes -- Grand Guignol! But the horses are fine craftsmanship and can fetch a pretty penny today.