Generations of people in the Monterey Bay area and beyond share fond memories of riding on the merry-go-round at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This year, the Looff carousel turns 100 years old and the magic continues.
The carousel was created by master woodcarver Charles I.D. Looff in 1911. Each of the 73 hand-carved and hand-painted horses is unique, embellished with colorful details such as flower garlands, jeweled trappings and cherubs. Their tails are made of real horse hair.
"One unique thing about the carousel is that it has a working ring machine," said Brigid Fuller, communications manager for the Boardwalk. Today, there are less than 20 working ring machines left in the U.S. The Boardwalk discontinued the rings briefly in the 1970s, but they returned when ridership plummeted by 75 percent.
"Most carousels are thought of as little kids' rides," said Fuller, "but the skill involved with grabbing the ring and getting it in the clown's mouth adds an extra challenge for people of all ages."
In honor of the carousel's hundredth birthday, the Boardwalk
With all the excitement surrounding this commemorative year, the merry-go-round magic is bound to be heightened this season. But there are still plenty of other attractions — including 34 additional rides. The perennial favorite continues to be the Giant Dipper, the sixth oldest roller coaster operating in the U.S. Built by Looff's son in 1924, more than 54 million riders have ridden this seaside thriller. Both the Giant Dipper and the carousel were named as National Historic Landmarks in 1987.
The Cave Train is another local Santa Cruz favorite that takes riders on a locomotive trip with Fred Flintstone-era characters, but updated with 21st-century technology.
There are also modern thrillers — the most recent being the spooky Haunted Castle that opened just last year. The Hurricane is a speedy roller coaster that takes travelers around gravity-defying hair-pin turns, and the Fireball will swing you into the air and toss you around until the sky, the Bay, the sand, the palm trees all blur together.
There are plenty of family rides, like the Sea Serpent roller coaster, which is just thrilling enough to make riders shout with joy — but without the knuckle-whitening grip. Kiddies will love Bulgy, the miniature whale that carries them round and round, as well as Jet Copters and Speed Boats.
In addition to rides, the Boardwalk features 26 games of skill such as Speedball, Roll-a-ball and High Striker. The Boardwalk Grand Arcades, featuring the Casino Arcade and Neptune's Kingdom, house more than 300 of the most popular video and pinball games, as well as a laser tag arena. There is even a Classic Corner, which houses arcade game favorites from as far back as 1910. Neptune's Kingdom — once the site of the historic natatorium "The Plunge" — also offers pirate-themed miniature golf, a game deck, billiards and a small history museum.
Summertime will feature free Friday night beach concerts, as well as 1907 nights, when all prices are rolled back a century - with dollar rides after 5 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesdays and Thursday summer nights are Pepsi nights, where anyone who brings in a Pepsi container after 5 p.m. receives a wristband for unlimited rides for $9.95.
— The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located at 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. For general information, call 426-7433 or423-5590 or visit www.beachboardwalk.com.
100 Years of Looff Trivia
— Since 1911, each original carousel horse has traveled a distance greater than circumnavigating the globe 12 times.
— No two Looff horses are alike, and each has an individual number stamped on a brass circle on its left cheek.
— The entire carousel cost $18,000 in 1911; now that price wouldn't buy two Looff horses.
— When the carousel arrived at the Boardwalk in 1911, passengers paid a nickel to ride the painted ponies. Today, a ride costs $3.
— There are 73 horses and two chariots on the carousel. Seventy-one of the horses are "jumpers," which move up and down, and the remaining two are "standers."
— Chariots were included on the original carousel so women could ride modestly and safely, without having to lift their skirts over a horse or ride sidesaddle.
— In 1911, 100 rocking chairs were placed in the carousel building so mothers could relax while their children rode.
— The ring machine holds approximately 5,000 1.5-inch diameter rings.
— Park workers fed rings manually into the metal arm until the process was mechanized in 1950.
— In the early days, one brass ring was added per ride; the lucky recipient would redeem it for a free ride.
— Number of rings the Boardwalk has to buy each year to replace those filched as souvenirs? Over 40,000! One in 6.5 riders can't resist pocketing a ring - despite the sign that's been posted since 1911, stating "Please Do Not Take Rings."
— The Looff carousel has appeared in a number of feature films, including "The Lost Boys" (1987), "The King of Love" (1987), "Brotherhood of Justice" (1986) and "Sudden Impact" (1983).