Wednesday, November 16, 2011

St. Paul, Minnesota, and The Curious Case of the Cherished Carousel

The Lemming had planned to write about what happened to St. Paul's Town Square Park. It used to be a remarkable indoor park area - occasionally used for social gatherings like high school proms. Alas! The fate of St. Paul's downtown Town Square Park remains a mystery. To the Lemming, anyway.

In sharp contrast, the fate of Cafesjian's Carousel, once of the Minnesota State Fair grounds, and briefly in residence at Town Square, was in the hands of folks who know how to tell a story.

A tip of the Lemming's hat to Our Fair Carousel, Inc., the not-for-profit owner and operator of Cafesjian's Carousel.

Who's carousel? As the Lemming hinted, there's quite a story about that.

Cafesjian's Carousel

Oddly enough, someone named Austin McFadden paid to have Cafesjian's Carousel built. The Lemming guessed that someone decided that "Cafesjian's Carousel" sounded cooler than, say, "McFadden's Merry-Go-Round." The Lemming was wrong. More about that later.

Cafesjian's Carousel/ has a nicely-done website about the St. Paul cultural landmark.


"Cafesjian's Carousel--History"
Our Fair Carousel

"A State Fair Tradition... Back in 1914, an enterprising man named Austin McFadden paid the Philadelphia Toboggan Company $8,500 to build a carousel, bring it to St. Paul, and assemble it on the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair. He ran it as a concession for many years, after which it passed into the hands of other families.

"Each year during the fair, Minnesota families would ride the carousel. Parents brought their children, grandparents rode with grandchildren, young people rode with friends and sweethearts, and over the years the carousel wove itself into the stories of thousands of families.

"Most of those families, perhaps believing that the State Fair owned the carousel, took for granted that 'their' carousel would be at the fair forever. That was not to be.

"Slated for Auction... In 1988, Minnesota carousel fans were shocked to learn that the privately-owned carousel had been put up for sale. By the time the story hit the newspapers on November 11, twenty horses and a chariot were on a truck headed for a December 10 auction in New York. According to the story, the carousel's owners had tried unsuccessfully to find someone to buy the carousel and keep it intact...."

There's more on that page, about what it took to keep the carousel in Minnesota, and in one piece. Not that "twenty horses and a chariot" are exactly one piece. "Intact" was a good choice of words, in the Lemming's opinion.

The Curious Case of the Cherished Carousel Continues

"...Operating at St. Paul's Town Square... The carousel moved into a new home at Town Square Park, an enclosed city park on the top level of a building in the heart of downtown St. Paul. The building housed a variety of stores and restaurants, and for about two years, business at the carousel was good...."
("Cafesjian's Carousel--History," Our Fair Carousel)

From another page on the website:

"In 1990, the carousel opened in an enclosed city park on the top level of Town Square in downtown St. Paul. (Note escalators in the foreground and shops on the level below the carousel.) Initially a shopping center, Town Square soon began to evolve into an office building, drawing few carousel visitors. By 1993, slow business at the carousel forced Our Fair Carousel to seek a new location."
("Town Square Larger View," Our Fair Carousel)

A Four-Season Indoor Carousel: Closing?!

"...By 1993, however, downtown retail business was in decline and Town Square itself was beginning a transition from retail to office space...."
("Cafesjian's Carousel--History," Our Fair Carousel)

Even the best merry-go-round needs people who want to go around merrily. And have time to do so. That transition from urban shopping area to buildings with 'office space for lease' in the windows was not good for Cafesjian's Carousel.

It's probably difficult to feel like a merry-go-round ride, when you're on coffee beak and worried about downsizing. And that's another topic, probably for another blog.

The Curious Case of the Cherished Carousel Concludes: For Now

"...New Home in Como Park... In spring 2000, Cafesjian's Carousel opened in a new, $1.1 million copper-roofed pavilion in Como Park. When the carousel is in operation, eight 14-by-14-foot garage-style doors can be opened in various configurations to suit the weather. Just outside the doors..."
("Cafesjian's Carousel--History," Our Fair Carousel)

The Lemming's glad that folks with the skills and level of interest it takes to work out arrangements for Cafesjian's Carousel. Moving that twenty-horse piece of Minnesota history across town, and having a place to set it up at the end of the trip, was a big job.

So was bringing it back to the way it looked in 1914. And that's another story:

Cafesjian's Carousel: Cool Name, and More

As the Lemming said, the carousel that Mr. McFadden paid a toboggan company to build didn't get its name on coolness alone. Back to Our Fair Carousel's website:

"Our Major Benefactor..."
Our Fair Carousel
"Cafesjian's Carousel is named for Gerard L. Cafesjian, who has contributed more than $1.2 million to its purchase, restoration and operation. Mr. Cafesjian was an executive with West Publishing Company; he is now retired and lives in Florida....

"...'I believe something special happens on a merry-go-round,' he said. 'The music, the magic and the movement combine to create a one-of-a-kind experience. When we preserve the carousel we also preserve that joy and hope--that happiness--for the entire community, for years to come.'..."

A sincere tip of the Lemming's hat to Gerard L. Cafesjian.

The Lemming Sounds Off

Folks like Mr. Cafesjian, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and others, are part of why the Lemming doesn't mind living in a world where a great many people have a great deal more money than the Lemming.

The Lemming thinks it's easier for a wealthy individual to decide that an old carousel is worth restoring, than it would be for some collection of bureaucrats.

Then there's Cousteau, who decided that Earth's oceans were more than just water, salt, and seaweed.

The Lemming's also run into self-important boors with more money than sense: but like everybody else, they buy food, clothing, and other necessities. Some of them pay a staff to carry out their crazy orders. That's where folks like the Lemming sometimes get their paychecks. And that's yet another topic.

St. Paul's Town Square: Closed Since 2001

"St. Paul's Town Square Park will be shuttered by year's end; The indoor downtown park that has hosted proms, weddings and noontime concerts has fallen to budget cuts.(NEWS)"
Joe Kimball, Star Tribune, via Highbeam Research (December 22, 2000)

"With little fanfare, downtown St. Paul's indoor Town Square Park will close at the end of the year, a victim of budget cuts.

"Closing signs had not yet been posted Thursday in the city-run park that has hosted band concerts, weddings, corporate events and lunch-hour naps for 20 years.

"By late next week, however,a gate is expected to be installed at the top of the escalators that come up from the skyway level, eliminating access to the 26,000 square feet of gurgling fountains and plants and trees that thrive under a canopy of windows...."

All that the Lemming has been able to learn about what happened to that outsized indoor facility is this caption: "The Town Square courtyard has been reopened in early 2003, but as a rentable space for events, owned by a private company." ("Town Square Complex," Fotki)

What the name of that rental company is, and whether the indoor park is still in use, seems to be one of the more jealously-guarded secrets in St. Paul. There's a hotel adjacent to the old Town Square Park, but they're remarkably reticent. 'Nuff said.


Brigid said...

Curious construction: "The name of that rental company is, and whether the site is still in use"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Curious, indeed. Also bad editing. Fixed, and thanks!

Thomas Day said...

Thanks for filling in the lost history of the downtown Town Square Park. We I moved to St. Paul in 1996, I loved this park and spent almost every evening there, enjoying the arboretum and reading or studying. I bought a home in Little Canada and while I was making that place into a home, my favorite thing about downtown St. Paul vanished. I guess it was closed in 2001, but it hadn't been maintained (including minimal plant maintenance) for years by then. The fact that the city can't find a reason to bring that wonderful facility back to life explains everything about why downtown St. Paul is a ghost town after 5PM.

Brian Gill said...

My pleasure, Thomas Day.

Sorry about the excessive delay in responding - the Lemming finally realized that comments were piling up. Embarrassing, rather.

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