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Horsing around! Jane Walentas to finally open her carousel • Brooklyn Paper

Horsing around! Jane Walentas to finally open her carousel

Jane Walentas says her waterfront carousel between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges will be a New York icon.
Photo by Alice Proujansky

It’s been a long ride, but Jane’s Carousel will finally open in Brooklyn Bridge Park next week — an instant waterfront icon for kids of all ages.

Jane Walentas, an artist and wife of DUMBO mega-developer David Walentas, restored the classic 1920s-era carousel and will unveil it to the public on Sept. 16, in its permanent, Jean Nouvel-designed home on the East River.

“It’s a thrill to see it here on the riverfront,” Walentas said last Friday, as the horses waited to be installed. “It’s now in the place we bought it for, in this spectacular building, in this spectacular park.”

The merry-go-round shines inside its $9-million acrylic pavilion with 26-foot-tall retractable walls that open during the day. At night, shades drop over the glassy shelter and every hour on the hour, revolving horses cast silhouettes across the river.

Once called the Idora Park Merry-Go-Round, the beloved wooden ride was in use until a fire ravaged the struggling park and the city was forced to shut it down in 1984.

The Walentases bought the historic ride later that year at a theme park auction in Youngstown, Ohio — then spent spent 22 years restoring it.

From the beginning, she envisioned putting it on the water between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. It was supposed to go there a decade ago under her husband’s plans for a massive apartment-building, waterfront hotel, and shopping complex in what was then Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park.

The City Planning Commission blocked the development for obliterating views of the Manhattan Bridge and bringing too much traffic to the neighborhood.

So the couple temporarily housed the carousel in a gallery at 56 Water St., where the public could look at, but not ride, the magnificent structure. The space was too small by city standards to allow passengers to giddy-up.

But Walentas didn’t give up, promising to donate the ride to the park — and, more important, pay for its protective structure. A group called Friends of Jane’s Carousel will maintain and operate the ride under a 30-year contract with Brooklyn Bridge Park. Any additional revenues from the $2 per-ride ticket price will go to the park’s maintenance budget, said park spokeswoman Ellen Ryan.

Even after the directors of the new park accepted the Walentases’ gift, some opposed the carousel, citing a lack of public-review process and concerns that it would obstruct views of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Some neighbors are still miffed over the project’s lack of community input — no matter how lovely the carousel may be.

“I am startled that this is now in our beautiful landscape,” said DUMBO resident Bella Hubert, who has two young daughters who would enjoy the new merry-go-round. “It seems like an ego trip and inappropriate. It’s more about [the Walentases] promoting themselves and becoming part of the history of DUMBO.”

Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, said the attraction is just another example of the park turning into a stomping ground for the wealthy.

“If you have millions of dollars, the mayor will listen to you and heed your suggestions,” she said, “but if you’re like most people and just want to use the park for your children, for recreation, you will have no voice.”

But Walentas said her carousel was only meant for the benefit of the park.

“I’m glad I didn’t give up,” Walentas said. “There were a lot of forces against us and it took a lot to stay with it, but it’s really paid off.”

The carousel was workable but dilapidated when the Walentases bought it. She hired a team 12 years ago to help her scrape away many layers of varnish to reveal the horses’ original carvings and colors. Then she used gold leaf and even hired a Mercedes-Benz detailer to draw decorations on the reigns and saddles.

The dusty old $385,000 ride is now a work of art.

Walentas said that after the carousel begins turning a profit, a certain amount will go to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“This carousel is going to belong to the world, as a real exciting destination,” Walentas said. “Riding on this carousel at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, watching boats go by — it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Jane’s Carousel will open on Sept. 16 at Brooklyn Bridge Park [Dock and Water streets in DUMBO, (718) 222-2502], 11 am to 7 pm. For info, visit janescarousel.com.

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