Brooklyn workshop builds merry-go-rounds

Sunday, September 15, 2002

NEW YORK -- In a vaulted warehouse in a gritty stretch of Brooklyn, grinning fiberglass horses stand in the corners, vibrantly colored wooden panels hang off the walls, the smell of paint and dust fills the air.

At the Fabricon Carousel Company, the workday is in full swing.

Dozens of artisans are adding the finishing touches to a menagerie of animals, tweaking the mechanism that will eventually send thousands of young children swirling around in a giggling frenzy.

"Wherever we put them, the reaction is always the same," owner Marvin Sylvor said. "We've done them in China, we've done them in Saudi Arabia, and the kids always come running. They're all giggles, they love it."

Over the past 17 years, the workshop has produced more than 70 one-of-a-kind carousels for amusement parks and malls all over the world -- from Hong Kong to Sao Paolo, Brazil, from Singapore to Chicago.

It all starts with a chalk outline drawn on the floor of the East New York factory. Over the next few months, teams of artists and artisans will create the animals and the panels. The detailed hand painting and laying of the floorboards are followed by the assembly and installation of struts and a 3-horse-power motor.

On this day, Fabricon is working on a custom 22-foot-diameter merry-go-round for the Lake Square Mall, outside Orlando, Fla.

Despite the high-pitched whir of grinding saws and a radio blasting the Who, a stray silver tabby named Visitor -- who moved in one day and never left -- sleeps on a flattened cardboard box, never once stirring.

The carousel will take six months to build and feature a nautical theme. The paneling will be painted with mermaids, and instead of horses, manatees and dolphins.

"We try to model them around the area where they are going to be placed," Sylvor said. A carousel for a mall in Grand Forks, N.D., for instance, evoked a Western theme. The one for a casino in Macau featured pagodas.

Carousels seem to make good business sense.

"Carousels are very popular in malls, believe it or not," said Larry Scollo, manager of the Lake Square Mall. "Most malls want to have them because they bring in families with children -- and that is very much our target market."

The sizes vary. Fabricon uses six standard sizes, ranging from 22 feet in diameter to 50 feet in diameter, although the artisans are flexible.

"You call, I do," Sylvor said. "Whatever you want."

The biggest merry-go-round the company has ever produced was for Riverfront Park in Nashville, Tenn. It measured 60 feet in diameter and seated more than 70 people at a time. It took nearly two years to complete.

Each carousel has a mix of animals -- to accommodate individual tastes. There might be horses that go up and down, others that stand still and a chariot or two.

Then there's the music. Most carousels today use a simple CD player to blast carnival style music, although for an additional $40,000, the company will install a paper-roll music machine.

"They tend to go out of tune a lot so most people just go with the CD player," Sylvor said.

Options are fairly limitless, but they don't come cheap. A basic 22-foot-diameter merry-go-round runs around $200,000. The larger or more complicated ones cost even more.

But in a world of virtual reality, is an old-fashioned carnival ride still a draw?

"This is just great," said Gretchen Ryan of Rye, N.Y., who brought her two children to a recent opening of a Fabricon carousel in Manhattan's Bryant Park.

"I used to come here for lunch everyday, but there was never anything for kids. This makes the park that much better."

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