April 10, 2012

Jane's Carousel: JANE WALENTAS

The downtown Brooklyn waterfront has been graced with the addition of a restored historic carousel, perfectly positioned in DUMBO’s Brooklyn Bridge Park beneath the bridge and the famous NYC skyline. The restoration of the carousel was conceived by architect Ben Thompson, who was tasked to design the Brooklyn Bridge park in the early 1980's, but the project was embraced and led by Jane Walentas. Wife of David Walentas, the real estate mogul recognized for developing and establishing the DUMBO neighborhood, Jane left her own, outstanding mark on DUMBO by lending her artistic vision and management experience to the carousel restoration. The original structure was created in 1922, the "heyday of the American carousel," and was situated in Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. Jane and David purchased the carousel at an auction in 1984, preventing the structure from being sold off piecemeal, and set in the new environs of Brooklyn, New York. Now, Jane’s Carousel hosts 48 stunning horses and 2 chariots, with additional scenic panels, boards, and poles refurbished from the original. The carousel is set in a glass structure designed by Jean Nouvel, providing stunning views of the waterfront, Brooklyn Bridge, NYC skyline, and Brooklyn Bridge Park (again and again and again). It has rightfully earned the distinction as the first carousel in the National Register of Historic Places. Although some lament Brooklyn's transformation into "strollerville" (or a new Upper West Side), the carousel is not just for kids and families. It is an iconic symbol of childhood, captivating kids, parents, and everyone in between.

If you’re one of those New Yorkers who calls himself a New Yorker but has never been to Brooklyn – well, here’s your excuse!

What was your inspiration for Jane's carousel?
Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for the inspiration - though I embraced it. It was inspired by Ben Thompson, a very respected Architect, who was hired by my husband David to create the Master Plan for the Park in the early 1980's.

How was the location chosen?
The site was chosen by Ben, who thought it would be exciting to have a Carousel at the edge of the river between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. I stayed true to Ben's vision, which I shared, although there was some initial opposition to it. Now, of course, everyone loves the site!

Any carousel childhood memories? 
I grew up near Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. My carousel memories are not from early childhood, but from my teen years, riding the carousel with my boyfriend. All romantic memories!

What makes you laugh?

My husband David, who is really not much of a comedian, but sometimes is very funny and still makes me laugh (after more than 40 years together!). Also, our Maine Coon cat Stuart Little's antics make me laugh. Unlike David, he's a true comedian!

Your quirkiest quality:

I'm an organizational freak. And especially love to color code EVERYTHING!

Your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream, especially with chocolate chips: mint chip, coffee chip, vanilla chip.

Most prized possession:
My simple gold wedding band (Tiffany, circa-1972) and my family - David, Jed, Kate, and their almost year-old baby Theo.

What do you do to unwind?
I take a walk in Brooklyn Bridge Park and ride on the Carousel. It always brings me peace and joy. 

Your 2012 Resolution:
Every year it's the same: to "lighten up" a little. Both literally (4 or 5 lbs.) and figuratively (not to take life so seriously).

Biggest pet-peeve?
I get very annoyed in a restaurant when the staff begins to clear the table while I'm still eating.

Your favorite meal in NYC:

Anything lobster with good champagne at The River Cafe (here in Brooklyn), the fabulous lentil salad at Sant Ambroeus in the Village, and the fresh & delicious Spaghetti Crudo at Giorgione in the summer. All fantastic!

Favorite NYC building?
Of course, Jean Nouvel's Pavilion for Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It amazes me every day. It feels so right. Also the Seagram's Building on Park Ave & 53rd St. I worked in that building in the late 60's - it was an absolute pleasure to walk into the building every morning.

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