Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Carousel and the Courthouse

After completing our tour of the Fox Hanford Theater in Hanford, CA, we walked across the street to Courthouse Square. One particular attraction caught our eye.

We later learned that what we were drawn to was the historic 1939 Allan Herschell Carousel, which was back up after recent extensive mechanical restorations.

"I have visited a lot of town squares and I have seen a lot of statues and buildings on the town square, but I have never seen a carousel in a town square." These were the words of Huell Howser from an episode of his popular PBS series, "California's Gold."

When it comes to a carousel, the state of California has some of the toughest ride laws in the country. The trouble comes with the fact that a nearly 100-year-old historic carousel is expected to meet the same strict ride standards as a new high-speed roller coaster–with no exceptions.

Bringing the carousel into compliance with these standards might be easy to do if you are Disneyland or Six Flags, but this carousel was required to have all new bearings added. These are not off-the-shelf items, not for a 1939 carousel. Every part needed to be hand made.

And according to Dan Horenberger, whose company completed these repairs by this past March, this was the first time a city had asked him to work now and wait to get paid.

But bringing this historic machine up to the standard put a major strain on Hanford. The city had been struggling to find the funds to keep their centerpiece of the historic downtown area open.

One of the fund raisers was a special Progressive Dinner to benefit the carousel. The dinner progressed from the carousel in the town square to the historic courthouse and on to local restaurants.

Since this was not Thursday evening (the only time that the carousel is operating), we continued our walk around Courthouse Square.

Hanford is named for James Madison Hanford, a railroad executive, after the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid through a sheep camp in the year 1877.

Hanford is truly a step back in time to small town America--for example, visitors can get shuttled around town on restored vintage fire engines modified to carry people instead of water.

With its impressive structure, the Hanford Auditorium provided the anchor to one side of the square.

The old courthouse now is the address for boutiques, professional offices, and a spa. I can't believe that the new courthouse would have more character than this grand building.

An example of one of those unique touches that you won't find on a modern building is this glass over one of the entry doors.

Rounding the corner of the courthouse, we heard a sound--the kind of sound that had to be investigated.

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