In the heart of the Tri-Cities is a place of pure enchantment and nostalgia that awaits visitors of all ages. The GESA Carousel of Dreams, a captivating masterpiece nestled within Columbia Park, has become a symbol of community, imagination, and joy. This whimsical carousel continues to bring dreams to life and stands as a testament to the power of artistic vision, good old-fashioned fun, and a reminder that it truly is the little things in life.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
Charles Carmel was the brilliant mastermind behind the creation of the Silver Beach Carousel, having worked previously with the likes of Charles Looff, who built Spokane’s famous Looff Carousel. Photo courtesy: Vintage Carousels

The GESA Carousel of Dreams Comes to Life Thanks to Charles Carmel

In 1910, St. Joseph, Michigan’s sun-drenched days witnessed children frolicking at the Silver Beach Amusement Park, home to an unparalleled carousel. Among the eager throngs, children and adults alike willingly surrendered 25 cents for a three-minute ride aboard cherished horses and chariots.

Charles Carmel created magic from a piece of wood, carving horses that sprang to life as they carried young riders up and down, round and round, much to their delight. The artistry of Carmel, the master carver, was evident in each gentle yet spirited horse he painstakingly crafted, exuding a sense of love and precision. Carmel’s devotion to bestowing uniqueness upon each creation breathed life into a memorable ride, leaving an indelible imprint on every passenger. It operated happily as such in the ensuing years until the passage of time began to take its toll.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
The Silver Beach Carousel operated for 62 years at Silver Beach Amusement Park in St. Joseph, Michigan, before being dismantled. Photo courtesy: GESA Carousel of Dreams

The GESA Carousel Struggles to Maintain its Happy Persona

Similar to numerous carousels from its era, the Silver Beach Carousel also experienced a decline in its condition. The onset of World War I created a demand for wood, primarily used in constructing war-related materials, and the availability of the softwood essential for crafting carousel animals was limited due to forest fires. Additionally, the emergence of roller coasters relegated the once-prominent carousel to a mere children’s attraction. Unfortunately, the impact of the Great Depression further subdued the flourishing amusement park scene for an extended period of time.

Still, the carousel thrived in St. Joseph for 62 years before being dismantled in 1972 and finding its way to a new home in Roswell, New Mexico. Here, a passionate carousel collector and enthusiast could breathe new life into the by-then pitiful ponies.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
The personality given to each horse on the carousel by Carmel can be seen in their intricate details. Photo courtesy: GESA Carousel of Dreams

A Stable Home: Marianne Stevens and the Carousel’s Preservation

A promise of hope would be visualized for the historic carousel in the 1970s in the form of Marianne Stevens. Co-author of “Painted Ponies,” she played a pivotal role in the movement to save the nostalgic ride. She purchased the old carousel intending to prevent it from being discarded and stored it in Roswell, her place of residence. Marianne’s passion for antique hand-carved wooden carousels from the late 1800s to early 1900s fueled her efforts to raise awareness and kindle interest in these artistic creations.

As the new owner of the carousel, Stevens deeply admired the intricately handcrafted horses and the stories they embodied. She diligently safeguarded the horses over the next three decades, ensuring their preservation. She clung to each horse with unwavering determination, driven by a steadfast mission to maintain their unity. Underneath protective tarps, the horses’ magnificence and profound legacy lay concealed, patiently waiting to be rediscovered again.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
A University of Washington Husky was added to the carousel after its move to the Tri-Cities, as was a cougar for WSU. Depending on which team wins, the victor gets to wear an apple medallion around his neck for a year. Photo courtesy: Beth at Wanderlust & Lipstick

The GESA Carousel of Dreams Makes is Rediscovered and Makes its Way to its Final Home in the Tri-Cities

For over three decades, Carmel’s exquisitely beautiful carousel remained hidden in storage, seemingly destined to be forgotten. Yet, fate had different plans, thanks to the efforts of two determined men, Ken Johanning and Phil Slusser, and a dedicated group of Tri-City area businessmen. Their fortuitous discovery of the carousel marked a turning point that would reignite its brilliance.

With unwavering conviction, they recognized that the Tri-Cities region was the ideal canvas for reawakening the carousel tradition and realizing its enduring legacy. This sentiment resonated deeply with Marianne Stevens, whose agreement underscored the profound significance of their vision. In the transformative year of 2002, The Silver Beach Carousel gracefully paved the means for the emergence of the illustrious Gesa Carousel of Dreams as it made its way to the Tri-Cities that year, solidifying its position as a symbol of timeless wonder and community spirit.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
Today, the GESA Carousel of Dreams is safely tucked away inside the Southridge Sports and Events Complex, where it has become a must-stop-spot for locals and visitors alike. Photo courtesy: GESA Carousel of Dreams

Restoring the GESA Carousel of Dreams

With utmost care, the ponies were methodically loaded into a truck, commencing their journey to their ultimate destination. For twelve years, an army of dedicated volunteers, skilled experts, and gracious contributors, ranging from individuals to larger entities, embarked on a tireless mission. Their shared aspiration was to transform the ambitious vision of a carousel in the heart of the Tri-Cities into a tangible reality.

Upon their arrival, the antique horses received individualized attention from devoted hands. Weathered by time, each animal was meticulously restored with a touch of affectionate care. The passage of those 12 years witnessed a labor of love, where the skilled hands of restoration artists breathed life anew into these silent witnesses of history. Two new additions were added to the carousel’s lineup, bringing its renewed spirit to life — a Washington State University Cougar carved by Tri-Cities’ own Michael Thornton and a University of Washington Husky, carved by the Missoula Carousel Carvers.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
The GESA Carousel brings joy and laughter to the families of the Tri-Cities. Photo courtesy: GESA Carousel of Dreams

The GESA Carousel of Dreams Once Again Brings Joy and Laughter to Children — This Time in the Tri-Cities

More than a century has passed since Carmel unveiled his carousel, yet the magic it imparts continues to captivate thousands of visitors today. The lovingly restored carousel stands as a testament to time’s endurance and the devotion of those who have brought it back to life. Its resplendent appearance, characterized by vibrant colors, subtle nuances, and the majestic presence of the horses, casts an enchanting spell.

Gazing upon the carousel’s horses, one can’t help but marvel at the intricacies that reveal themselves upon closer inspection. Even after repeated viewings, the attention to detail remains awe-inspiring, a testament to the artistry that has gone into its restoration.

This gem of history and wonderment is accessible to the public, situated at the heart of the Southridge Sports and Events Complex along Highway 395 in Kennewick. In addition, within the facility is a concession stand ready to cater to cravings with classic delights like burgers, hotdogs, nachos, pretzels, refreshing beverages, and delightful confections.

A multi-million-dollar marvel, the carousel is a sight to behold and an experience to relish. Visitors of all ages are invited to partake in rides and capture photographs that encapsulate moments of joy. In the spirit of spreading smiles and laughter, the carousel offers these experiences without charge.

This carousel is more than just a ride — it’s a symphony of history, craftsmanship, and the simple pleasures that unite generations in a shared sense of wonder.

GESA Carousel of Dreams
Southridge Sports and Events Complex
2901-F Southridge Blvd., Kennewick

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