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Woman who revived Idora Park carousel dies

AP file photo Jane Walentas poses with one of her carousel horses. She spent years restoring the carousel from the former Idora Park in Youngstown and later reopened it in New York City. AP file photo

Jane Walentas, an artist, philanthropist, creator and designer perhaps best known locally for painstakingly restoring an iconic amusement ride, has died.

Walentas, who operated Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn, N.Y., died Sunday at age 76 after a battle with cancer, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Katie Ryan Roth, the business’s vice president and director of operations, confirmed the death Wednesday but declined to comment further.

Many Mahoning Valley residents likely remember the Teaneck, N.J., native for her work in restoring the former Idora Park merry-go-round (now known as Jane’s Carousel), after the park’s demise. In April 1984, a fire from a welder’s torch quickly spread and caused about $2.5 million in damage. Idora Park opened that summer, but closed permanently in September 1984.

The Philadelphia Toboggan Co. built the carved, wooden carousel ride in 1922 that was a favorite attraction for generations of Idora Park lovers of all ages.

After attending a two-day auction in October 1984, Walentas and her husband, David, a real estate developer, bought the ride, then transported it to Brooklyn for restoration. She then spent about 27 years on a $15 million project that entailed mainly painting, scraping and refurbishing the 48-horse, two-chariot ride, which included repainting each horse to its former glory.

The revamped attraction opened Sept. 16, 2011, at the DUMBO Waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park. A little more than a year later, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, resulting in minor water damage to the carousel before it reopened a few months later.

“It was in good condition (after being bought at auction). A few of the horses were singed, the paint was singed, but no wood was actually burned. So it survived the fire very beautifully,” Walentas said in a May 25, 2016, interview with Corporate Profile.

Her initial goal was to use a specialized knife to scrape 10 to 12 coats of paint to get the ride down to the original paint from 1922. Walentas eventually matched the colors from that year and carefully documented her work and finds, she said in the interview.

“I think Jane’s Carousel will be a fitting memory to her. A few years ago, I rode (the carousel) and it was a great thrill,” remembered Rick Shale, who, along with Charles J. Jacques Jr., penned the 1999 book “Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer.”

Shale, who retired in 2011 from Youngstown State University’s English department, recalled having traveled to New York City with a contingent of YSU retirees. Walentas had other commitments and was unable to meet the group, but their itinerary included a stop at Brooklyn Bridge Park to see the ride that still held deep attachments to Youngstown, he explained.

Shale noted that during the auction, the opening bid was $500,000, which dropped to $400,000 before David and Jane Walentas bought the carousel for $385,000. Had the couple not stepped up, the ride may have been sold piecemeal to individual collectors, he said.

Shale said having the storied attraction leave the Valley was a sad moment, but it ended up in good, caring hands.

“Everyone was sorry when the carousel left Youngstown, but I can’t think of anyone better suited to restore it,” he added. “It’s an absolutely magnificent piece of restoration.”

Walentas earned a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in advertising design in 1966 from Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia. From 1970 to 1983, she worked for Estee Lauder, having served as the company’s art director.

In 2005, she launched the Visionary Women’s Scholarship program to assist women in pursuing careers in art and design.

In addition, Walentas founded the Friends of Jane’s Carousel, for which she served as executive director until her death.

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