Recent History: 1996 - 2016
Celebrating 20 years! Friends of the Paragon Carousel
By Marie Schleiff, President, Friends of the Paragon Carousel, Inc.
The Friends of the Paragon Carousel have cared for South Shore’s beloved carousel for twenty years and dedicated themselves to fulfilling the mission of preserving and restoring the last Grand Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousel and keeping its home on the shores of Nantasket Beach. Many visitors to the Paragon Carousel have learned of its exciting and inspiring history. The carousel has survived and endured since 1928 despite fires, hurricanes, an auction, blizzards, an impending sale, and bankruptcy. The story of the non-profit organization, the Friends of the Paragon Carousel, is an equally amazing one.
In autumn of 1995, the business interests of the three investors who saved the carousel at the auction of Paragon Park changed. The decision was made to market the Paragon Carousel. A small army of locals, which grew and grew, started a grassroots funding campaign. Judeth VanHamm led the charge! What followed was truly an amazing series of events in a short six month period. The purchase price was 1.1 million dollars; the highest price paid for any carousel. The group was then given two months to secure funding. The deadline was January of 1996.
The Friends worked quickly and secured two bank loans and a loan from the Hull Redevelopment Authority. The Copeland Family Foundation gifted $100,000. The Hull selectmen arranged a $200,000 state grant. With small personal loans from the owners and a slight reduction in price, the deal was completed in March of 1996. Almost $500,000 had been secured through gifts, fundraising, grants, and loans. A business plan was created. Senator . Still, a staggering debt of almost $600,000 remained.
Congressman Gerry Studds ushered the application of the non-profit corporation through the federal government. Listed as board members were VanHamm as President, Stephen Avakian, Vice-President, John Alongi, Treasurer, Susan Fleck, Clerk, Ed Kane, Janet Sandler-Katzeff, and Jim O’Brien. The Friends of the Paragon Carousel was in business!
In 1997 the non-profit group was able to manage a transfer from the DCR of the lease of the Clock Tower Building adjacent to the carousel for $1 a year. The potential of the building was enormous: it had historical significance, revenue generating potential, and allowed for enhancements to entertainment and education. With this excitement also came the reality that the business had failed to meet the projections of the business plan. The season of 1997 had a late start, a hurricane, and changes in the board membership. The carousel was saved, and now it had to survive and thrive. By the winter of 1997, Susan Fleck became President of the Friends of the Paragon Carousel and Bill Wiseman was named Treasurer. Carl Katzeff and Gary Bloch were added to the board. The four would remained on the Board of Directors for a decade. .
Non-stop efforts to keep operations going were possible due to many volunteers who organized dinners, raffles, clambakes, and pancake breakfasts. Patrons and sponsors there from the beginning included Jake’s, Dolly’s Nursery School, Tosca, Riddle’s, the Building 19 Foundation, Mary Niles, and Lois Davis.
The Friends celebrated in 1999 when the Paragon Carousel was added to the Register of Historic Places. In 2002 the success of the commemorative brick program helped pay for a new roof for the carousel. By 2003, 30 of the 66 horses had been restored in addition to one of the rare Roman chariots.
However, ten years later, at the end of 2007, the economy suffered a downturn. This, along with leadership vacancies, forced the carousel back to a survival mode. By the winter of 2008-2009, the situation was bleak.
In spring of 2009 the Board of Directors announced bankruptcy. Bills had been left unpaid, and a debt of almost $400,000 faced the Friends. Debt service was close to $35,000 a year. The Board of Directors realized that if the doors of the carousel were shuttered for the upcoming season, the likelihood of their ever reopening was slim. Digging into their own pockets, the members paid insurance bills and created a plan to open with a volunteer army. By March, over 200 folks had answered Dennis Zaia’s call for help. Friends invaded the creamery to clean. Carpenters created a restoration studio and gift shop area in the Clock Tower Building. With board members and volunteers operating the carousel, manning the cash registers, opening gates and taking tickets, the carousel, once again, opened its doors in April. The 81st season of the Paragon Carousel would begin!
An amazing rejuvenation began. The Friends were invited to participate in a competition for restoration sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express. The carousel’s artistic legacy and emotional bonds quickly became apparent with friends from all over the nation voting for Hull’s carousel. With the $100,000 prize the Friends were able to take down the old steel garage doors and replace them with replicas of the original doors. New windows bathed the carousel and its horses in light.
The carousel had a new lease on life and another chance to carry the joy of the past to the present. By 2010 an expanded board was able to plan and budget for the future. During the past seven years remarkable progress has been made bringing financial stability to the organization. However, challenges continue.
Today, loans totaling approximately $200,000 remain from the original debt. The Friends need at least $90,000 to get through each winter. Ridership pays for the operating expenses for each season of approximately 10 weeks. Two other challenges face the organization. The volunteer base has dwindled. The carousel has only two full time, year round staff members. James Hardison takes care of the facility as he restores the carousel. Patti Abbate watches over daily operations as she organizes special events. Board members and volunteers help in the carousel, greet folks in the Paragon Park Museum, and assist with fundraising.
The next challenge was securing a new lease for the Clock Tower Building. The current lease ended in June. For four years we have been working with the DCR and the legislature explaining that the Clock Tower Building is critical to the continued operation of the Paragon Carousel. Without the revenue generated by this building, the operation would cease. Former Senator Robert Hedlund, Representative Garrett Bradley, and Senator Patrick O’Connor and Senator Keenan have been helping us navigate the legislative road. On Sunday, July 31, we learned that Governor Baker signed the new lease. The Friends of the Paragon Carousel can now look at the next 25 years.
Those who work with us help to preserve the carousel’s artistry and to preserve the joy and magic forever. Please consider joining our board of directors, our advisory board, or volunteering. If you can give some time to this non-profit group, please contact Marie Schleiff, President, FPC at 781-925-5257 or Patti Abbate, Director of Operations, Paragon Carousel, 781-925-0472.
Historical Background of Nantasket’s Paragon Carousel (PTC#85)
19th Century: Nantasket a World Class Summer Resort
During the nineteenth century, a number of resort areas were developed in and around Boston to provide summertime pleasure for its residents. In the late 1800s, Nantasket, or Hull, was known as the premier resort in New England, boasting the largest summer hotel in the nation. The Nantasket Beach area attracted many interesting summer visitors in its "Golden Age". President Grover Cleveland vacationed at one of the grand hotels, President Calvin Coolidge maintained a summer home here, Daniel Webster was said to have frequented a public house in 1920's, and Lizzie Borden's attorney was a member of the Hull Yacht Club.
Beginning in the summer of 1818, paddle steamboats would run from Boston to Nantasket Beach, carrying up to two thousand visitors per trip. Ranked as one of the oldest routes in the country, a fleet of vessels eventually grew to carry more than two million passengers to Hull in the summer of 1892. One hundred thousand people would arrive at Steamboat Wharf each day to the shores of Nantasket.
Along with the magnificent beach, the grand hotels and world-class restaurants, the amusements of Paragon could be found in other Massachusetts towns including Revere and Norumbega (Newton, on the site of the Newton Marriott Hotel). At one point, more than a dozen wooden carved carousels could be found in the Boston metropolitan area, close at hand by ferry or trolley.
1928: The Paragon Carousel
With the advent of the automobile, the Boston metropolitan resorts lost favor to Cape Cod and northern New England. One by one, the merry-go-rounds disappeared by fire or sale. After a major fire at Paragon Park in Hull, a new large, elaborate carousel, PTC #85, was installed in 1928, to replace the one destroyed by the blaze.
This was the 85th out of 89 hand-carved and painted carousels created by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC), renowned maker of hand-carved carousels in the Philadelphia, or realistic, style. (Toboggan meant roller coaster) PTC #85 included 66 horses and two rare Roman Chariots, each pulled by two horses, carved by the Dentzel Company, founder of the Philadelphia style, and purchased when the last of the Dentzels died. Its scalloped canopy was one of the most beautiful ever constructed for any carousel.
1984: The End of an Era on Nantasket Beach. Paragon Park is dismantled, sold at auction.
In 1984, the amusements of Paragon Park were dismantled and sold at auction, and the land was developed into condominiums. Local activists persuaded the land's developer to purchase the carousel. A year later, when the developer decided to sell it, three investors were found to rescue it at a dramatic auction, while the MDC agreed to provide space for it at the heart of Nantasket Beach, just a half-block from its original location. The three investors relocated the 120 ton carousel and its original building in April, 1986 (the move made Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”) to this new prominent location, reinstalled a Wurlitzer band organ, and began restoring the horses to their original paint colors. Twenty four of the horses have been fully restored to date. The video below follows the auction, the carousel's move and opening day at its new location in 1986.
Ten years later, when the business interests of the three investors changed, the carousel was again put on the market in August 1995 with a deadline of two months to raise $1.1 million before it would once more be committed to auction.
1996: Rescued from the Auction Block Again
A group of people came together, many of who5 had been working to revitalize Hull for years, to rescue the carousel from the auction block once more. They formed the non-profit organization, The Friends of the Paragon Carousel, Inc. When significant funds were raised by November 1, the owners agreed to give the Friends additional time to secure financing before signing with an auction house. Eventually, the Friends secured funding through loans, grants, and a reduction in price to be able to sign final papers for the carousel's purchase allowing it to open for the 1996 season, the last carousel in the Boston metropolitan area.
2015 and Beyond
Today, the antique Paragon Carousel is the last vestige of Paragon Park and is a lasting reminder of the "Golden Age" of Hull, when the town was teeming with thousands of visitors each day in the summer for decades.
The fundraising efforts for the Carousel continue, as the historic amusement is still encumbered with a substantial mortgage and ever increasing maintenance and operational expenses. Fundraising efforts are always underway to retire the debt, while other fundraising efforts including special events, the seeking of grants and corporate sponsorships, are raised to sustain a restoration fund for the Paragon Carousel.
While operating expenses are usually covered by the ticket price during the summer "riding" season, fundraising is a challenging and ongoing activity for the Board of Directors throughout the year.
To contribute to our efforts, please click here.
A 2015 benefit for the Paragon Carousel is promoted in this video produced by Hull Community Cable Television.