Nostalgic, Quicksilver and Sea Dreamer are finally back in town.
They are among the 69 ponies, two chariots and a camel that populate the city’s landmark carousel in Lighthouse Point Park — the largest carousel in Connecticut and one of only a few dozen intact antique rides in the country. Until Thursday, when they returned to the city, the wooden stallions were in the workshop of carousel artist William Finkenstein in Plainville, Conn., undergoing an exhaustive restoration to return the seats to their original condition.
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The effort is part of a major citywide initiative to catalog and revitalize New Haven’s public art and monuments — a six-year push that has refurbished the city’s Christopher Columbus monument and East Rock’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, among others.
“They’re important landmarks that make the city an environment in which people want to work and raise their families,” City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said.
To this end, Barbara Lamb, the director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, has been working for the past two years to inventory New Haven’s public art and monuments — everything from Morse College’s “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” to the flagpole and fountain on the New Haven Green.
“It’s a constant work in progress,” Lamb said. “These landmarks are integral to New Haven.”
The public art restorations began six years ago under the leadership of Robert Levine — the city’s director of parks, recreation and trees — who at the time noticed that many of the town’s statues and landmarks were falling into disrepair. First to be fixed up was the battered statue of Christopher Columbus in Wooster Square park. A year later, Levine began working on the overhaul of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the 112-foot tall column on the summit of East Rock.
While the Columbus statue only took a year to refurbish, the Sailor’s Monument was a five-year commitment that cost just over $1 million in grants, public donations and private funding, said Sabrina Bruno, the project and events coordinator for the city’s department of parks, recreation and trees. The statue atop the column, the Angel of Peace, had been struck by lightning so often that its base could no longer hold it in place and the statue was on the brink of falling over, Bruno added.
But since then, the statue has been repaired, the column restored, the spiral steps within it replaced and the plaza surrounding it redesigned. It finally opened to the public last week, after its thorough facelift.
And just two years after work on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument began, the department started working on plans for the historic carousel, now in its last phase of restoration.
“[The carousel] is a cherished destination that generations and generations have enjoyed,” Mayorga said. “It’s important that we maintain the beauty of the horses and that we preserve it so that generations to come can enjoy the landmark.”
Currently in its third year, the $200,000 restoration is still only three-quarters complete, but that will not keep it from opening to the public on Memorial Day by the end of May. The project is set to be completed by this time next year to mark the 100th anniversary of Lighthouse Point Park, and the update will be the most thorough change to the carousel since its construction in 1916.