George and Lucy Vincent open a carousel, Ferris wheel, and dance pavilion across from Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo in June 1919.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 8/27/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7881
In June 1919 George (1874-ca. 1938) and Lucy Vincent (1893-1990) open a carousel, Ferris wheel, and dance pavilion at 5501 Phinney Avenue, directly across the street from Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. Despite initial protests by neighbors and the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners, who object to having the dance pavilion so close to Woodland Park, the Vincents operate the business through 1934, when it is destroyed by fire.

The business operated under the name Woodland Park Pavilion, Woodland Amusement Park, and (in at least 1929 and 1930) New Carousselle. The concession stand was called the Orange Thirst Shop.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the carousel had a canvas protective pavilion that also covered a ring of arcade game machines (Schlegal interview). The dance pavilion was a wooden frame structure. The Vincents also built a large wooden concession stand. In addition to neighborhood traffic heading into Woodland Park and Woodland Park Zoo, the Vincents' business serviced streetcar commuters.

"You Could See Forever"

Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011) grew up near Green Lake and as a child rode the Vincents' carousel and Ferris wheel with her sister Florence Mary (Pfister) Burke (1909-1998). She recalls:

"I remember the carousel and Ferris wheel very well. Florence and I walked around the lake almost daily and we usually walked the extra little ways away from the lakeshore to where they were. We loved watching it and hearing the music.

"Every once in awhile we had the nickel or dime to pay for a ride on the carousel. I loved the "action" pieces, which were mostly horses, but I seem to remember there were some others ... a tiger and lion. There were even some ornate benches, but they were no fun. That carousel had one really mean thing on it ... a whirling tub that you could sit in and it spun like a top while the carousel was turning. My one ride in it was plenty. It seemed like my tummy was in an uproar for at least two days afterward.

"That Ferris wheel was amazing. Situated as it was at the top of Phinney Ridge, when you were at the top of its orbit, you could see 'forever.' The west side of the ridge drops like a cliff, so the top of the wheel seemed to be at least ten times its actual height! It was a million dollar view across Ballard, the Sound, and the Olympic Mountains" (Dorothea Nordstrand).

This carousel was probably manufactured by the C. W. Parker Company, or at least used pieces from a Parker carousel, since only Parker offered the spinning tubs (called lovers' tubs) that nauseated Dorothea and probably many other young riders.

The Vincents' "New Carousselle"

In 1929 and 1930 the Vincents' business used the name "New Carousselle," a probable indication (coupled with anecdotal and archival evidence) that they were using a different carousel from the one they had previously used.

Evidence for exactly what kind of rides the Vincents were operating by 1934 is available via the printed letterhead on a piece of stationery George E. Vincent used on January 17, 1934, to file a petition with the Seattle City Council requesting a reduction in his yearly license fee -- $150 for the carousel and $150 for the Ferris Wheel. The letterhead states, "Eli Ferris Wheel Number 16, Riding Devices On Trucks, Go Anywhere, Spellman [Spillman] Eng. Corp. Four Abreast 50-foot carrouselle 1200 electric lights, penny arcade" (Seattle Municipal Archives). This carousel, manufactured by Spillman Engineering Company, was quite large -- four horses abreast instead of the more common three abreast. Vincent's petition was denied.

Difficulties Ahead

On May 23, 1934, Dave Himelhoch, a Woodland Park Zoo concessionaire, received permission from the Seattle Board of Parks commissioners to install a small portable children's merry-go-round in Woodland Park. George Vincent had suffered a stroke in late January 1934, but an attorney representing him attended the May 31, 1934, Park Commissioners' meeting to protest that Himelhoch's merry-go-round would be unfair competition, arguing that the Vincents were already struggling to cover their costs due to severe economic conditions. At the June 6, 1934, meeting Lucy Vincent appeared in person to protest Himelhoch's plan.

The minutes of this meeting state, "President Martin assured Mrs. Vincent that the Woodland Park concessionaire (Himelhoch) will not have a merry-go-round in this park" (August 1933-October 1939, p. 73).

Although photographic evidence shows people riding the Vincents' Ferris wheel wearing winter coats circa 1930, apparently by 1934 Lucy Vincent was operating the rides only during the summer season. On August 3, 1934, Lucy Vincent petitioned the Seattle City Council to reduce her license fee from the $150 per structure she had recently been assessed back to the $100 per structure she had paid previously, explaining that she bore the expense of hiring an attendant for her now invalid husband and adding "I am not selling beer, wines, nor any kind of liquors at my amusement. I am meeting every requirement placed upon me by you, and I do not nor will I tolerate anything that is not up to every code or law made by your body" ("Petition of Mrs. G. E. Vincent ..."). On August 15, 1934, Lucy Vincent's request was granted. However, financial disaster lay ahead.

Ferris Wheel on Fire

On the evening of August 26, 1934, the carousel and its pipe organ, Ferris wheel, skating rink, and concession stand were destroyed in a three-alarm fire. The fire drew thousands of curious spectators, many of them attracted by the horrific sight of the enormous Ferris wheel ablaze. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "Screaming animals in the Woodland Park Zoo added a wierd accompanyment to the crackling of the flames, and many persons on their way to the scene imagined the fire was in the zoo buildings across from the recreation center" (August 27, 1934).

On May 23, 1935, the Vincents applied to the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners for permission to operate a merry-go-round and dodgem ride (bumper cars) in Woodland Park. It is possible that this carousel was the earlier Parker carousel, or perhaps the Vincents planned to purchase these rides with insurance money since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer mentions that the amusement center carried insurance at the time of the fire (August 27, 1934). The zoo was not yet fenced off from surrounding streets and the rest of Woodland Park, so it is unclear how near the animals the Vincents planned to put their rides. Presumably they would have wanted to be near the crowds of children visiting the zoo. It is unclear whether or not their request was granted.

By 1939 George Vincent had died. Lucy Vincent does not appear to have had any further connection with amusement concessions of any kind.


Sources: "Petition of Mrs. G.E. Vincent for reduction of license fee for Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round, August 6, 1934, City of Seattle Comptroller File #144446, Seattle Municipal Archives; "Protest of Park Board against Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel, and Dance Hall near entrance to Woodland Park," April 28, 1919, City of Seattle Comptroller File #73244, Seattle Municipal Archives; Dorothea Nordstrand, email to Paula Becker, July 27, 2006, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington; Seattle Board of Park Commissioners Minutes, Vols. 8-20, August 1921-October 17, 1974, RG 9365-01, Seattle Municipal Archives; Kay Schlegal telephone interview with Paula Becker, July 31, 2006, notes in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle; Linda Allen phone interview with Paula Becker, July 31, 2006, notes in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle; "Edison Patents the Kinetoscope," Library of Congress American Memory website accessed August 1, 2006 (http://memory.loc.gov); "1935 Annual Reports: Fire Department 1935," p. 65, File Number 150294, Folder 1, Box 3, RG 1802-G4, Seattle Municipal Archives; Items 9480-9493, Seattle Municipal Archives Photographs Collection website accessed August 2, 2006 (http://www.seattle.gov/CityArchives/); "Washington, KING, 1-WD SEATTLE" 1920 U.S. Census Microfilm Series: T625 Roll: 1925, p. 244; Polk's Seattle City Directories, 1918-1978 (Seattle: R.L. Polk & Co.); "Woodland Park Carnival Center Burns; Spectacular Inferno Puts Zoo In Uproar," Seattle Post-Intelligencer , August 27, 1934, p. 1.

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