Death of Beloved Operator of Griffith Park Carousel Throws Landmark's Future Into Question

Julio Gosdinski who has died at age 49 had worked at the Griffith Park carousel since he was a teenager. (Courtesy Dora Herrera)

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Thousands of Angelenos who've visited the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round over the last three decades have crossed paths with a beaming, twinkly-eyed man named Julio Gosdinski.

Gosdinski co-owned and operated the carousel, one of the country's oldest and fastest — clocking in at 14 miles per hour. It's also one of the most recognizable, immortalized over the years in film and TV.

An immigrant who moved here from Peru when he was 12, Gosdinski started working at the landmark as a teenager. One of the owners bequeathed half the business to him in 2011.

Friends of Julio Gosdinski visited his merry-go-round after his death and wrote a chalk art tribute. (Teena Apeles)

He became the carousel's keeper, the one who touched up the paint on the carved horses and maintained the 94-year-old equipment.

"That was his first and last job is what he likes to say," said his friend Dora Herrera, an officer on the Friends of Griffith Park board.

She murmured at how right he was. Gosdinski died Friday at age 49, leaving friends in shock at the loss of a sprightly, generous man who had dedicated his life to the carousel.

His younger sister Annelieese Gosdinski-Espinoza said he died in his sleep and was discovered Friday morning by their mother, who lived with him in Atwater Village.

Gosdinski-Espinoza said she did not know if her brother had been suffering from a medical condition but he had complained of stomach issues for several days prior.

She said her brother didn't share much of his personal life, in part because he didn't want people to worry about him. He was open, though, about his love for Star Wars and the Schnauzer Terrier mix he called Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Bo Besca — "a.k.a Dot."

He also greatly enjoyed being with children, helping watch his friends' kids and working as a teacher's aide during the merry-go-round's off-season.

Gosdinski-Espinoza said she and her mother have been deeply moved by the outpouring of love from the community which includes online tributes to her brother and a GoFundMe page launched to defray funeral costs.

"Who would have thought a little immigrant kid from Peru would eventually make such an impact on the community?" Gosdinski-Espinoza said.

AN ESCAPE FROM 'THE REAL WORLD'

Friends say the carousel wasn't just a job for Gosdinski. He called it an escape from the 'real world' in an interview with the creative collective Narrated Objects in 2017.

"There's something about it that is very soothing and it's very magical," he said.

As riders flew by on the carved horses, the slender Gosdinski could be seen leaning back on a bench with friends belting out tunes piped from the carousel's Stinson 165 Military Band Organ, like a "Spoonful of Sugar."

In a 2017 profile, Gosdinski took pride in the carousel's details, including that none of the horses were stationary.

"We have 66 horses, all jumpers," Gosdinski told KQED. "We have a few horses that were carved back in 1895, so they're actually older than the merry-go-round. Those are the jewels of the carousel."

His enthusiasm, captured in the 2017 documentary "Julio's Dream," made an impression.

"I kid you not, anybody that he came in contact with walked away feeling a little brighter," said Kathryn Louyse, another Griffith Park board member.

Friends recounted how he would happily give free rides to people who loved the carousel, like a young man with developmental disabilities who had been coming since he was a child, sometimes twice a day.

Tracy James met Gosdinski 20 years ago when she was a young single mom desperate for an activity at the park to occupy her daughter.

"He wouldn't charge us to keep riding," said James, who years later would see him regularly when she became the assistant to Griffith Park's superintendent. "We would just sit there and spend an hour going around in circles until the kid was exhausted."

Former employee Iris Pineda said Gosdinski's generosity extended to public schools. He donated gift packages for schools to use as auction items that included tickets for rides, coloring books and T-shirts decorated by a merry-go-round.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE CAROUSEL?

Julio Gosdinski talking with friends at the carousel he had worked at since he was a teen.(Courtesy Dora Herrera)

Pineda, who stayed friends with Gosdinski after working for him for five years, questioned how the merry-go-round would continue to operate without him.

"Someone to have that knowledge and skill set of that machine and how just everything operates — I don't know that anyone can replace that," Pineda said.

Herrera agreed that Gosdinski had a one-of-a-kind understanding of the carousel.

"It's a very sensitive, delicate piece of machinery," Herrera said. "You had to learn its little quirks. And Julio just took to it."

Gerry Hans, president of the Friends of Griffith Park board, said despite the challenges emerging in the wake of Gosdinksi's death, he and other members are committed to keeping the merry-go-round operational.

"We're going to do everything to take care of the carousel and find good ownership and continue to keep it where it is," Hans said.

Hans said the carousel is in a "pretty unique situation" because it is not owned by the park but by Gosdinksi and his partner Rosemary West. Board members say West is the ex-wife of Warren Deasy, who had given Gosdinksi his ownership half.

The aging carousel's carved horses are fragile and need upkeep. Here is one horse damaged in a photo shoot. (Kathryn Louyse)

Hans said he'd like to keep raising funds for the carousel's upkeep so it can stay. Recently, he said, the Friends of Griffith Park received a $2,000 grant to go toward tuning the organ and to repair some of the lights.

Gosdinski's former employee Pineda said she was hopeful the carousel would endure too — for people to enjoy, but also as a place for her to remember her friend.

She said in recent weeks, he had been visiting the carousel, imagining when the pandemic would ebb and he could re-open. He put up plexiglass at the ticket stand and pictured how far apart people would have to wait in line.

"He was ready to go," Pineda said. "He really did have a passion for it."

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