Pullen Park reopens for a new generation

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2011 

Kennedy Walker, 4, center, takes a ride on the newly renovated Pullen Park carousel on Saturday. The new carousel building is climate controlled and will enable the carousel to be in operation year-round in Pullen Park, the oldest public park in the state.

LIZ CONDO — Liz Condo - newsobserver.com

— An old friend to generations of North Carolinians was welcomed back on Saturday with the reopening of the amusement area at Pullen Park after a $6 million renovation project that kept it closed for nearly two years.

A steady stream of people visited the 124-year-old Raleigh landmark to reconnect with the historic carousel and train while taking in changes such as the expanded playground area and new welcome center. The celebration on Saturday marked a chance to relive childhood memories while introducing Pullen to their own children.

“It’s comforting to come back to Pullen Park and reflect on the memories of our childhood,” said Raleigh City Councilman Thomas Crowder at the dedication ceremony.

Cheri and Eric Kivisto of Raleigh brought their 9-month-old son Carter to Pullen for what they expect to be the first of many visits over the years. Cheri Kivisto, 45, made a beeline with Carter over to the carousel, which she can remember attending when she first moved to Raleigh 35 years ago.

“It’s so clean and beautiful,” Kivisto said. “It wasn’t so nice before.”

The deteriorating state of the carousel and the other rides were what caused the City of Raleigh to shut down the Pullen Park Amusement Center in December 2009. Using money approved by voters in a 2003 parks and recreation bond, the fifth-oldest operating amusement park in the United States got a facelift.

One of the most visible changes is the new carousel house.

The 1911 Dentzel Carousel is now in a spacious, climate-controlled building. Parents no longer have to stand behind a wire-mesh fence watching their children ride in a dimly lit area. The carousel’s animals were also restored.

Blanche Ellison of Clayton brought her two grandsons, Michael, 11, and Matthew, 9, back to the park they used to visit weekly. Michael said he could easily the difference from two years ago.

“It’s nice and neat,” Michael said. “The paint is new so it’s not cracked.”

The park, which was donated to the city in 1887 by philanthropist Richard Stanhope Pullen, also has some 21st Century touches. That includes replacing the concession stand with Pullen Place Cafe & Catering, which offers food from local providers and healthy eating options.

The cafe offers standard park fare like hot dogs and hamburgers. But don’t look for French fries, potato chips and soft drinks. Instead, park goers dined on items such as Vietnamese sandwiches, hummus with gluten-free crackers, chicken apple melts and organic coffee.

“I liked the fact that it was very good and that the food was made locally,” said Pat Quain of Chapel Hill, who ate a veggie burger.

Diane Sauer, director of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department, summed up the mood for many at Pullen when she told them she hoped they all agreed that the refurbished park was “worth the wait.”

“After 24 months extensive renovations, we’re here to celebrate,” Sauer said to the cheering audience.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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