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Merry-go-round leads to Idora ride

By Linda Linonis

Friday, October 14, 2005

A New York couple bought the carousel at an auction here 21 years ago.
Like thousands of other people, former Youngstown resident Chuck Adams has memories of Idora Park and its legendary carousel.
Tonight, he'll be among invited guests who will see many of the restored horses on display at the art studio of Jane Walentas in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Just like many others, he has fond memories of Idora Park. That motivated him to find out what happened to the carousel that had been sold at auction in the mid-1980s.
"The Idora Park carousel is near and dear to me," said Adams, a son of Patty and Butch Adams of Columbiana.
On the Internet, he searched the Web site, talked to people at Youngstown Playhouse about the play "Idora Park" and bought a book, "Idora Park, The Last Ride of Summer."
As Adams searched for information on the fate of the Idora Park carousel, he said he was startled to discover that the beloved carousel was only minutes away from him. Not only that, but another coincidence landed him an invitation to the party featuring the carousel horses.
Adams, who owns a catering business, Kanard Inc. in New York City, also operates a cafe at the American Folk Museum. One of the museum patrons is Walentas, whose husband, David, served on the board.
"It's amazing how we were connected," Adams said. When Adams talked to Walentas about the carousel and his geographic tie to it, she told him, "I know you" and made the connection to the cafe.
Others have visited
In a phone interview, Walentas said that Adams isn't the only person she has met with a tie to the carousel. At least 10 other former Youngstown residents, now New Yorkers, have visited her art studio and seen the horses in various stages of restoration.
Walentas is hosting the private party tonight; her studio will be open Saturday and Sunday as part of the DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) Arts Festival.
How the New York couple came to own the Idora Park carousel is a story of business ventures and artistic devotion. Walentas said her husband, a successful real estate developer, was involved in the private enterprise development of a park in the DUMBO vicinity in the early 1980s. The couple thought it was "just the place for a carousel," and so the search began.
Walentas joined the National Carousel Association to learn about carousels and sales. That's how the Brooklyn couple came to Youngstown for the carousel auction Oct. 20, 1984. The 85-year-old Idora Park closed on Labor Day 1984.
Walentas explained that the auction went horse by horse and at the end the bids were tallied and one buyer could take all. The Walentases bought the Idora Park treasure for $385,000.
After the couple hired a specialty company to dismantle the carousel and related machinery, two tractor-trailers traveled to Brooklyn with the precious cargo of 48 standing and jumping ponies and horses, two chariots, band organ facade, the machinery and other related pieces.
Walentas researched the fine points of carousel restoration for about a year. Her art background -- a bachelor's degree in art and a master's in fine art -- and previous work as art director at Estee Lauder were assets.
"I was in an academic frame of mind ... having my master's, and I knew careful documentation of each horse was important," she said. And so she began the arduous and time-consuming work on the carousel, which was created in 1922 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co.
Much work involved
When she started the project, it was a solo effort. Along the way, Walentas has had help, and now seven people work in her studio.
"I was horrified by what I saw," Walentas said, referring to eight to 10 layers of paint on the horses. The original paint could not be salvaged, because it was too fragile and fractured. But Walentas documented and photographed colors and designs on each horse so that she could achieve the original look.
A carpenter also helped in the restoration process. The horses were scraped down to the bare wood. Some had been singed, but not extensively damaged, by a fire at Idora Park in April 1984. The process revealed carvings and details previously obscured by layers of paint.
"The horses are really magnificent," Walentas said, and worth the 20-year effort she has devoted to the project. Special touches on the horses include palladium, a platinum-based silver color, and 24-carat gold leaf.
An artists' community
As Walentas worked inside her studio, which she described as being in a somewhat desolate place, the world outside also was changing. Other artists were taking up residence and families were moving in. "It's an artists community today," she said of the revitalized area.
In Walentas' spacious, second-floor art studio in the building owned by her husband, the Idora Park carousel horses are sure to garner admiration of those attending the arts festival. Walentas said she calls her studio PTC 61, referring to the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. and the number on the center pole of the carousel.
The carousel will again take center stage the first of the year, Walentas said, because she and her husband plan to set it up in another building he owns where there is ample space.
The carousel's destination may eventually be the riverfront park. Plans are being resurrected for the park, Walentas said, and the park planner has expressed interest in the carousel.