‘Friends’ acquire historic carousel

By Reema Makani Boccia | Growing Balboa Park

The Friends of Balboa Park organization is acquiring the historic Balboa Park Carousel that has entertained native San Diegans and visitors since 1922.

The sale closed escrow on June 30 and will allow the nonprofit to maintain uninterrupted operation of the Balboa Park Carousel, located off the San Diego Zoo’s parking lot entrance, at Park Boulevard and Zoo Way.

San Diego families have enjoyed the Balboa Park Carousel for nearly 100 years. (Courtesy Friends of Balboa Park)

“The carousel was one of very few privately owned assets in Balboa Park,” said John Bolthouse, executive director of Friends of Balboa Park. “Our taking over its ownership aligns perfectly with Friends’ mission to preserve and maintain the park for future generations to come.

“Since 1999, Friends has partnered with the City Parks & Recreation Department to help fund projects throughout the park and the carousel is our largest undertaking yet,” Bolthouse continued. “We need the public’s support in funding the endeavor and are looking forward to continuing to have the carousel be in the spotlight, just as was intended more than a century ago.”

Capital campaign kick-off

Friends of Balboa Park will kick off a capital campaign to raise money for the ongoing support and maintenance of the carousel on July 25, National Carousel Day. San Diego City Councilmember Chris Ward, County Supervisor Ron Roberts and numerous other elected officials and community leaders will be on hand to help celebrate the momentous occasion.

A news conference will begin at 9:30 a.m., followed by a public event from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Free carousel rides will be offered from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

The public event will entail children’s music and carnival activities, face painting and more. To support the capital campaign, visit

History of the Balboa Park Carousel

The carousel has been privately owned for more than 100 years by several different families.

Since its relocation to Balboa Park in 1922, the Balboa Park Carousel has brought countless smiles and memories to all who’ve ridden its animal menagerie and reached for the prized brass ring. The carousel still runs on the original General Electric motor built in 1910 and requires an elevator/roller coaster certification to operate.

The current owner is Bill Steen; the Steen family has owned the carousel for more than 40 years.

Carousel timeline:

1910 — Built by Herschell-Spillman Co. and erected in Luna Park in Los Angeles.

1913 — Carousel and building moved to Coronado’s Tent City by new owner H.D. Simpson.

1915 — Carousel and building moved to Balboa Park for the Exposition.

1917 — Carousel and building moved back to Coronado’s Tent City.

1922 — Carousel and building return to Balboa Park, where the Fleet Science Center now stands.

1968 — Carousel and building moved to current location; some structural and aesthetic updates are made.

1977 — Bill Steen family purchases carousel.

2017 — Friends of Balboa Park purchase carousel.

Friends of Balboa Park is an affinity group that enhances and maintains Balboa Park through donations and park programs. The group has spearheaded major capital improvement initiatives throughout the park, including information kiosks; restoration of the historic gate houses and lily pond; and managing Adopt-A-Plot, bench tributes, tree dedications and other programs that facilitate the community’s direct involvement in the enhancement of Balboa Park.

Reema Makani Boccia is a local public relations professional who serves as a communications consultant for Friends of Balboa Park. For more information, visit

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