Botanica’s Carousel Gardens: A Crowning Achievement for WDM Architects and Co-founder Dan Wilson

November 1, 2019

In 2015, WDM Architects was thrilled to be engaged to design a new home for Joyland’s carousel at Botanica. This work embodies values that are very important to our firm.

We can help create stronger communities when we enhance Botanica. It’s a place for families to spend fun time together, learn about nature and celebrate each other’s lives.

We encourage people to enjoy the outdoors. Our landscape architects and zoological design team are passionate about creating immersive environments that move us to go outside.

We also believe in preserving history. A visit to the carousel will undoubtedly trigger many conversations as an older generation shares their stories and opens a window into the past for younger ones.

Dan Wilson, co-founder of WDM, has a special place in his heart for the carousel project for just these very reasons. “I grew up in south Wichita and Joyland was a big deal,” he says. “I used to ride my bike there.”

Botanica began the work by retaining local artist Marlene Irvin to return the original horses to their classic glory. Then to raise seed money for the project, Botanica offered sponsorships for each of the newly restored horses.

“The horses are being restored, but what about the rest of the carousel?” Dan asked Marty Miller, executive director of Botanica.

Dan soon found himself volunteering his time and skills to lead the restoration efforts. “I had the time,” says Dan, who had cut back on his hours at the office, “and I like the idea of giving back. I’m a Wichita guy through-and-through.”

The project has not been without its challenges. Transforming an antique amusement park ride into an attraction that harmonizes with Botanica’s beautiful gardens and operates on 21st-century technology is no small feat. Dan realized it needed more than an appealing and functional building to house it, the carousel itself needed a vision for its new life in the gardens.

So, Dan hosted a workshop at WDM for the project early on. “All my life, I brought people together to work towards a vision — it’s what architecture is all about,” says Dan. Together, Botanica’s leaders, local artists, volunteers and architects created that vision: take the original graphics and make them seem to grow and bloom. Add fireflies and butterflies and plant imagery.

With this vision in place and a goal to work towards, a suitable space was needed to stage the restoration work. Roger Nelson, son of Joyland owner Margaret Nelson Spear, offered the use of his well-equipped building and became a great resource for the effort. Every piece of the machine had to be taken apart — not an easy task when “a lot was rusted together,” comments Dan. Each one needed cleaned, sometimes sandblasted, powder-coated or painted. All of the wood pieces were replaced.



When the project began, Dan spent an average of two days a week personally digging into it and coordinating volunteer efforts, but eventually he was needed there every day of the week, logging thousands of hours over the next three years. He was not alone; others also spent thousands of volunteer hours on it. Charley Davidson became his right hand man and worked beside him every day. During the disassembly process, Dr. Howard Day was invaluable.

Duane Hanson, who “can make anything out of wood,” made himself available whenever he was needed. He teamed with Melvin Hollenbeck and Bernie Hentzen, who got all of the materials and labor donated, on the custom wood floor. Connie and John Ernatt, local artists extraordinaire, were hired by Botanica to help bring the vision to life. Botanica’s own Lee Lindquist was responsible for all of the carousel’s power systems. Mike Ross helped with the finishing touches. And many others played important parts along the way.

The new permanent pavilion is bright and airy, with glass walls that bring views of the garden inside. Marty Miller likens the carousel and pavilion to a “jewel in a jewel box,” precious and sparkling and rare.

“It’s a beautiful piece of art” Dan agrees, “we brought it back to life from all these pieces, and yet it isn’t the same carousel, it’s all new.”

Join us in celebrating the opening of the Carousel Gardens later this month at Botanica.