Our area has been the birthplace of many things: the American porcelain industry, oil refining, but carousels? Who knew? Actually, Greenpoint has a long history of carousel production that goes all the way back to 1850 when Greenpoint’s Eliphalet Scripture off Greenpoint received the first patent for the improvement of the “flying” carousel horse.
Another Greenpoint man would make a name for himself as the creator of some of the most beautiful American carousels. Charles Looff who lived on Leonard Street is arguably the father of the American carousel. The Danish-born Loof, arrived in Greenpoint in 1870 and found employment as a woodworker in a local furniture factory. After work he would take scraps of wood home and carve beautiful carousel animal figures from them. Loof mounted his wooden animals onto a circular platform and created his first merry-go-round. In 1876, he built the carousel at Lucy Vandeveer’s Bathing Pavilion at West Sixth Street and Surf Avenue, Coney Island’s first carousel and first amusement ride.
Looff set up a factory to build merry-go-rounds in a building at the corner of Guernsey Street and Bedford Avenue. He then created a merry-go-round at a beer garden on Surf Avenue, Coney Island run by Charles Feltman, the father of the American hot dog. Next up, he installed another carousel at Coney Island and later created a large ride at Asbury Park, New Jersey. Loof began to hire skilled wood carvers such as John Zalar, Marcus Illions, John Mueller and Charles Carmel for his thriving business. The father of five children, Looff also employed his sons in building merry-go-rounds; however the factory site was taken by the city through eminent domain to create McCarren Park. Sadly, Looff’s business was forced out of Greenpoint.
In the 1990s Greenpoint wrote another chapter in the history of American carousels when famed carousel creator and Pratt graduate Marvin Sylor moved his Fabricon Carousel factory to Franklin Street. His sixty carousels, in places like Bolivia, Brazil, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, and the United States, are still admired for their design, artistry and painting , all of which dazzle in what is his best-known creation, the 2002 Bryant Park carousel behind New York Public Library.
The Bryant Park carousel was a challenge because he was asked to create a French style Merry-Go-Round to fit into the Parisian style park created there. His artists created 10 elegant ponies, a whimsical frog, a cat, a deer and a rabbit, using images ranging from puffy white clouds to Audubon birds in the 12,000-pound, 22-foot-wide carousel.
Perhaps local artist Milo Motolla created the most wonderful carousel ever produced in Greenpoint in 1993. He created a carousel in Manhattan’s Riverbank State Park where kids who used the park designed the figures. The carousel is a Styrofoam menagerie explicitly faithful to the visions of the hundreds of 5- to 8-year-olds who spilled out their imaginations in colored pencil.