Charles I.D. Looff (1852-1918) is considered the first of the great American carousel builders having created 17 of them during his long career–some of which was spent living and working in Riverside, Rhode Island.
Charles I.D. Looff was born in the Danish province of Schleswig-Holstein in 1870, but by age 18 he was living in New York, working as a woodcarver in Brooklyn and creating and painting wooden animals as a hobby. That hobby turned into a thriving business when he assembled those animals on a frame and platform built at Coney Island. It was 1876, and his first carousel was an instant success
Having built carousels in Atlantic City and in the beer garden at Feltman’s famous restaurant at Coney Island, Looff opened a factory and hired four carvers to keep up with the demand for more wooden horses for his merry-go-round business. In 1905 the city of New York condemned his factory to make room for a park, so he moved his operation to Riverside, Rhode Island, where he had installed a carousel in 1894 at Crescent Park.
During his Rhode Island sojourn, Looff also built carousels for Roger Williams Park in Providence and for Pawtucket’s Slater Park. Looff acquired a lease for Crescent Park (which had been founded in 1886 by George B. Boyden) and began promoting this facility as “the Coney Island of New England.” At Crescent Park, Looff built many carousels which he shipped throughout the United States and Canada.
In 1910, Looff moved to California finally settling in Long Beach where he died in 1918, but members of his family continued to operate Crescent Park until 1966. Today Looff’s horses, for which George Washington’s steed was a model, fetch up to $50,000.00 each and are regarded as valuable pieces of folk art.
After Crescent Park was closed and sold to developers, a strong community effort, spearheaded by the East Providence Carousel Commission, saved and restored its sixty-six figure Looff carousel, which is regarded as the finest surviving example of its type in America. It is now the centerpiece of Carousel Park, a small public area set aside to preserve and display this famous ride.