Island Horses Forced to Gallop Off the Peninsula

If memories of nostalgia and happy moments of yesteryear include ice cream treats and carousel rides on the Balboa Peninsula, then you’d better hurry back for one last… quick fix… hurrah of days gone by.

Since the 1930s, the carousel ride has been a prominent attraction at the Balboa Fun Zone. But a change in ownership is forcing the Balboa Fun Zone to remove its iconic merry-go-round by Sept. 30.

The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum bought the land that Fun Zone occupies in 2006 and decided not to renew the amusement’s lease.  According to Fun Zone manager Patrick Moore, the ride must be removed by Sept. 30 but it will likely stop running Sept. 25, the day after the Fun Zone marks its 75th anniversary.

Moore said news of the carousel’s closure will put a “very dark spin” on the Newport Beach landmark’s 75th anniversary celebration. Moore hopes to figure out a way to keep, relocate or sell the attraction.

Although the ferris wheel and other attractions will remain, Moore said the surrounding businesses are worried about the disappearance of the carousel.  “We’re all afraid of it being an empty patio next year,” Moore said. “Many people are concerned about being in business next summer … I’m concerned it’s going to have a negative impact on the whole area.”

The carousel was built in 1951 and was at Santa’s Village in Scotts Valley, north of Santa Cruz, until being restored and placed in the Balboa Fun Zone in 1985. The new landlords plan to use the patio where the carousel is located for community events and educational programs, said museum President Rita Stenlund. The full plans for the soon-to-be-vacant space will be unveiled at a Newport Harbor Nautical Museum event Oct. 22.

Stenlund said she sees the change as part of a revitalization of Balboa Village. “Our commitment is keeping the fun in the Fun Zone,” she said. “The plans for our new project, ExplorOcean, will demonstrate that and we want so much for the community to see those plans … I believe it will tell the story of our changes and show our commitment to creating a place where new memories will be created.”

The bumper cars and Scary Dark ride closed in September 2006 as part of a gradual plan to phase in the museum.  According to Daily Pilot archives, preliminary expansion plans released by the museum last year included a parking garage, theater, weather station, cafe and gift shop.

Gay Wassall-Kelly, a longtime resident and representative member for Balboa Village on the city’s Economic Development Committee, said her friends and neighbors were shocked when they heard of the carousel’s closing. “I don’t see why it doesn’t fit with the museum,” she said. “I think they need to keep the Fun Zone with it or the draw is completely gone.”