Seattle Now & Then: The Phinney Ridge Ferris Wheel

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Between 1919 and 1934 the northwest corner of Phinney Avenue and N.E. 55th Street was home to an amusement center that was a city-wide attraction. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry, from the Pemco Webster and Stevens Collection)
NOW: Lora Hansen moved in 1936 with her parents to a home on Greenwood Ave., across the street from where the Ferris Wheel had stood. She recalls that a children’s playground merry-go-round was set on the concrete slab that once supported the amusement center, until St. John United Lutheran church built their new sanctuary there in 1954-5.

Recently while retired U.W. Archivist Rich Berner and I sat side-by-side looking at old photos together in the now old Museum of History and Industry Library, Rich pulled from an archival box this week’s subject and turned it to me.  Instantly I felt that happy “Eureka” rush, for here, I was confident, was the Phinney Ridge Ferris wheel described to me long ago by a ridge partisan, who claimed that the big wheel stood across Phinney Ave. from the entrance to Woodland Park.

While thanking my informant for her memory, I continued to wonder if she wasn’t remembering instead the kiddie Ferris wheel and merry-go-round that were both once in the park, and not out of it.  How, I thought, could I have missed a Ferris wheel on top of that familiar ridge?  But I had, and so with Rich’s discovery I silently confessed – or thought, “Oh you of little faith.”

In the spring and early summer of 1925 George and Lucy Vincent installed first the “New Carousselle,” here generously signed above patriotic bunting at the front of their amusement center, and then “the Aristocrat,” which they described as  “one of six giant Ferris Wheels on the North American Continent.”  Both were, apparently, replacements for the smaller wheels they opened with in 1919 over considerable neighborhood resistance.  George’s father Robert C. Vincent, age 76, died after a short illness early in 1920, not knowing if his top of the ridge amusements would survive.

The son and executor, George, using then a mix of licenses and zoning, the sympathy of friendly neighbors who liked living near these revolving excitements, the clout of free enterprise, the favors of club life, and one restraining order kept the Vincent business in place until the night of August 26-27, 1934 when it caught fire.   Consumed was the Carousselle, the 62 hand-carved animals, the one thousand electric lights and the reflecting mirrors.  Gone were the skating rink, two lunch rooms, and the transcendent Aristocrat.  A few of the neighbors nearest to the ashes of the Carousselle’s mighty Wurlitzer Organ may have given thanks.


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For more about the Ferris Wheel on Phinney, Paul says click on this photo

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The Phinney Ridge Ferris Wheel”

  1. Hello I may have an interesting twist to the life of the ferris wheel. I have no way of knowing for sure but I’m in the construction industry and am a born and raised seattleite and recently heard of an old ferris wheel that was discovered under Seattle by the boring crew on the tunnel project on the Seattle waterfront. I assume its possible it was buried after the fire?.. Something maybe to look in to?

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