CMOM brings historic installation back full circle

A “grand” piece of Memphis history is about to be brought back to life.

The Memphis Grand Carousel, a former Libertyland fixture, will make its new home in 2017 adjacent to the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

“We are proud that we are going to be able to bring this treasure back to life in the city where she belongs,” says Dick Hackett, CEO of the museum. “I am very confident that the carousel will become an icon of Memphis because it is going to be worthy of that in quality. The restoration is first-class – very historic-minded restoration, and we think the building itself is going to be something to see.”

Built in 1909 by Gustave Dentzel, the carousel was originally placed in Forest Park Amusement Park in Chicago. Following a fire in 1921 and a repair at the Dentzel factory, the Memphis Park Commission bought the Carousel from Dentzel in 1923 for the Memphis Fairgrounds.

A few years after the closure of Libertyland, the carousel was broken down and stored in the Mid-South Coliseum, where it remained for about five years.

The Children’s Museum signed a 25-year lease with the City of Memphis in 2014 for the carousel, and in 2015 it was shipped to Ohio for a restoration valued at a little more than $1 million.

Once restored, the carousel will be brought back to Memphis and placed in a new, $5 million facility next to the Children’s Museum. The carousel pavilion will not only include a spot for the carousel but also a 300-seat ballroom and pre-function space, which will be available for rentals. The Children’s Museum will not start booking for events until the construction process is well underway.

Funding for this project comes from private donors. The money for the restoration has already been raised, and the fundraising for the facility is ongoing.

“It is not only part of the fabric and history of our city, it also happens to be one of the most historic carousels in North America,” Hackett says. “Obviously the timing for government funds to be spent like that, having been in the mayor’s office, becomes a little low on the priority list compared to the needs of the law enforcement, firefighting and schools. We were in the right position with the right mission and understood the financial challenges of our governmental agencies to restore it, so we saw a private nonprofit sector opportunity.”

Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC is the contractor on the project, and Designshop is the architect. Hackett says he expects the groundbreaking for the pavilion to occur in July. A building permit valued at roughly $4.4 million was filed in June.

The pavilion will be connected to the Children’s Museum but will also be free and independent of it, with its own separate entrance, address and name.

“It will have a very high-end finish to it,” Hackett says. “And the building itself will be complementary to the treasure it will house.”

by Meagan Nichols