San Diego

Friends of Balboa Park Holds Fundraiser to Keep Balboa Carousel Running

Nonprofit Friends of Balboa Park first purchased the carousel on June 30 from a private owner in order to help preserve the piece of Balboa history for future generations

The new owners of the historic Balboa Park Carousel kicked off a fundraising campaign Tuesday to help restore the ride to its 1910 glory.

The nonprofit organization, Friends of Balboa Park, purchased the carousel from a private owner on June 30. The group's plan is to help preserve the carousel as a piece of Balboa Park's history and keep it running for future generations.

Friends of Balboa Park held a special ceremony and fundraiser starting at 10:30 a.m. A red ribbon was cut, marking a new beginning for the ride, which is over 100 years old.

Fittingly, Tuesday was National Carousel Day. The organization offered free rides on the carousel from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fundraising portion of the event goes until 2:30 p.m., and also includes children's music, face-painting, and carnival activities.

Several San Diego leaders joined the event, including Councilman Chris Ward and Supervisor Ron Roberts.

The carousel, located off Park Boulevard, near the entrance to the San Diego Zoo, was originally built in 1910 by Herschell-Spillman Co. in Luna Park in Los Angeles.

In 1913, its ownership transferred to H.D. Simpson, who moved the carousel to Coronado’s Tent City. In 1915, the ride was moved from Coronado to Balboa Park for the Panama-California Exposition. Two years later, it moved back to Coronado.

In 1922, the carousel returned to Balboa Park. It sat at the site that now houses the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center until 1968. It was moved to its current location that year, and some structural and aesthetic updates were added. In 1977, private owner Bill Steen purchased the carousel.

Steen managed the carousel for 40 years before selling it to Friends of Balboa Park. He sold it below market price so the nonprofit could afford to buy it, restore it and resume its operation.

The restoration of the ride, according to Friends of Balboa Park executive director John Bolthouse, will be quite the project for his group.

"Since 1999, Friends has partnered with the City Parks and Recreation Department to help fund projects throughout the park, and the carousel is our largest undertaking yet," Bolthouse explained.

Friends of Balboa Park is starting a capital campaign to raise $3 million by 2020, which will go toward the purchase of the carousel and to maintain the ride, which boasts all original parts, including the General Electric motor built in 1910.

To date, the nonprofit has raised $800,000 of its goal.

In a press release, Bolthouse said the organization is looking forward to keeping the carousel in the spotlight, “just as was intended more than a century ago.”

The carousel’s regular hours of operation are weekends, holidays and summer months from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It costs $3 for the five-minute ride or $10 for four rides.


The Balboa Park Carousel is a “menagerie model” carousel, which means it includes horses as well as other animals. Its two-level platform features 12 jumping horses, 15 standing horses, and 25 other animals made of original, hand-carved English Lindenwood. This includes one camel, two cats, one deer, two dogs, one dragon, two frogs, two giraffes, one goat, one lion, two mules, two ostriches, two pigs, two roosters, one stork, one tiger and two zebras. The platform also includes three chariots.

The hand-painted murals that surround the upper portion of the carousel are also original pieces.

According to Friends of Balboa Park, the carousel is one of the few in the world that still offer the “brass ring game” for those taking the ride. The game – a feature of vintage carousels from the 19th and early 20th centuries – features a ring dispenser and target, and those who hit the target get a free ride on the carousel.

To donate to the campaign, click here.

Contact Us