What’s Happening to the Crescent Park Carousel?

The East Providence landmark is getting some much needed repairs.
The Crescent Park Looff Carousel will be open to the public soon again after extensive renovations. Photo credit: Tracy Johnson of Crescent Park Carousel

For generations, the Crescent park Carousel in Riverside has delighted families with its whimsical nostalgia. All that remains of a long-gone amusement park, the carousel was saved by a group of residents that then formed the Crescent Park Preservation Association. They’ve kept the ride going through its riders and donations, but all those years have taken a toll on the structure. Lovers of the merry-go-round may be disappointed to see that the carousel has been closed for the last three years, but they may rest assured that the ride is getting some much needed TLC. 

There is a lot of history contained within the walls of the carousel, and it all started in 1895. Charles I.D. Looff originally built the carousel as a showpiece for prospective buyers; it was his largest and most elaborate work as a carousel designer ever. The ride features decorative panels, beveled mirrors, faceted glass jewels, electric lights and colored sandwich glass windows that all remain today. It also is one of two carousels in Rhode Island in which riders can play the ring game, where they try to grab a brass ring from their mount in order to win a free ride. When the Riverside amusement park was shut down in 1979, a small group of residents fought for the carousel to be saved. It is now the only ride that remains. In 1985 the Rhode Island General Assembly proclaimed it as the State Jewel of American Folk Art, and the carousel was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1987. This ride is old and beloved, but Looff probably never imagined it would still be standing today.

How the carousel stands is exactly the problem; this latest project aims to fix the foundation that the whole ride rests upon. Luckily, the City of East Providence pitched in with the Crescent Park Preservation Association to hire the New England Foundation and Stabilization Company, along with Todd Goings of Carousels and Carvings to plan and execute the restoration. The team recently completed phase one of the project, which included new helical supports mechanically driven into the sand at sixteen key locations. Four out of five cement piers that support the mast were replaced. The workers have replaced the floor and wrapped up this first phase. These improvements should help stabilize the structure for a smooth and safe ride. 

This carousel is no stranger to restoration projects; in 2018, six horses were sent to the New England Carousel Museum to fix a mold problem while several window sills were replaced and lots of other work was done. The figures were stripped of their ornate paint and gems, and any cracks in the wood were filled in. They have since rejoined the herd of sixty-one horses, four chariots and one camel that decorate the merry-go-round. 

It is unclear when the carousel will open again, as it is currently undergoing inspections (update: the carousel has passed all inspections). So far, phase two is set to begin October 2023 if the proper funding can be acquired. This phase of the project will be even more dramatic, since it requires dismantling the entire carousel to replace the top and center bearings. There is a lot going on with this old ride, but the carousel’s Facebook page is keeping folks updated with every step of the process. Hopefully, soon children of all ages will be able to once again ride the beautiful steeds to the original band organ music, and reach for that elusive brass ring.

Events like Movies in the Park and Carousel Cruise Nights are continuing despite the closure.