Freedomland U.S.A. (usually just called Freedomland) was a short-lived, themed amusement park in the Baychester area in the northeastern part of the Borough of The Bronx, New York City. Its slogan was "The World's Largest Entertainment Center" (later, "The World's Largest Outdoor Family Entertainment Center").
Freedomland opened on June 19, 1960. It closed at the end of the 1964 season when it failed to make a profit.
Woody and Walt
was conceived by Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood
(1922–1992), a young Texan, who had previously worked in the planning, construction and management of Disneyland
. Hired by Walt Disney
in 1953, Wood was the person who selected the orange grove site in Anaheim, California
was eventually built.
Wood became very close to Disney during the next two years, but eventually the two men had a falling out. Reasons for this are unclear, but three theories exist: Wood was embezzling money from the park; Wood was taking too much public credit for Disneyland or Wood betrayed Disney by planning his own amusement parks, effectively stealing Disney's original concept.
By January 1956, Wood had been fired from Disneyland. To this day, The Walt Disney Company refuses to acknowledge any role played by him in the creation of the first Disney theme park.
Concept and construction
In 1956, the 33-year-old Wood began planning and building three of his own amusement parks across the country. In 1958, Wood opened Magic Mountain
(closed, 1960 but revitalized in 1971), Pleasure Island
in Wakefield, Massachusetts
in 1959 (closed, 1969) and finally, Freedomland
Wood's partner was Milton T. ("Ted") Raynor, a television sports producer and attorney, who served as Freedomland's president.
The park's original concept was history-based and the layout was arranged in the shape of a large map of the contiguous United States with guests entering at the approximate location of Washington, D.C.. Baychester Avenue at the park's eastern edge represented the border with Canada. Freedomland was divided into different themed areas based on the history of The United States, each with its own attractions, shops and restaurants. This made Freedomland a true theme park with one real theme.
The research and design team consisted of 200 top artists and architects, including 19 Academy Award nominees. Original music for the park was written by Jule Styne, composer of many Broadway musicals including Gypsy and Funny Girl.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for Freedomland took place on August 26, 1959. Disaster struck on March 24, 1960 when six unfinished buildings were demolished by fire and had to be razed.
Freedomland was built on the site of a former municipal landfill. Although the property was spread out over 205 acres, the actual amusement park itself was just 85 acres - larger than Disneyland's 65 acres. The park could accommodate 32,000 visitors at one time (90,000 during the course of a day) and boasted 8 miles of navigable waterways and lakes, 10,000 newly planted trees, 18 restaurants and snack bars and parking for 72,000 cars. It cost $65 million to build.
The area was a swampy one connecting the Hutchinson River and the drainage into Westchester Creek, and was not entirely filled. This led to a profusion of mosquitoes during much of the season. The swampy bottom would later complicate the construction of Co-op City.
Freedomland was built at a time when the traditional New York City amusement area of Coney Island was in a state of continuing decline. Unlike Coney Island, Freedomland was highly accessible by automobile; however, it was difficult to access by the heavily used New York City Subway system, requiring a connecting bus ride after taking an isolated subway line to the last stop. Coney Island, by contrast, was (and is) directly served by four separate subway lines. Coney's last integrated amusement park, Steeplechase Park, closed in 1964, the same year as Freedomland
On June 18
was dedicated in a ceremony with 5,000 people in attendance. The following day, June 19
, the park officially opened with 65,000 visitors. That same evening, The Ed Sullivan Show
presented a promotional tour of the park and referred to it as Disneyland's equal on the East Coast.
On June 20, the second day of operation, Freedomland was forced to stop selling tickets because of traffic jams leading to the park.
Freedomland's operating hours were from 9:30 am until midnight (later 10 am to midnight), seven days a week, from May through October. The Moon Bowl was also opened for occasional off-season performances.
Themed areas and attractions
opened with seven different themed areas (later expanded to eight), each representing a location and era of U.S. History. They were:Little Old New York (1850-1900):
- Horseless Carriage - An antique car ride in a 1909 model Cadillac through a mock-up of New England
- Harbor Tug Boats - A boat ride through the Great Lakes
- Horse-Drawn Streetcar - A transportation ride to the Chicago area
- Horse-Drawn Surrey - A transportation ride to the Chicago area
- Political Pep Rally - A live street show that included a German Band, an 1880's Tammany speech, rallying suffragettes and a New York gangland robbery of the Little Old New York Bank
- Ice Cream Parlor - Ice cream parlor designed in an 1890's style
- Grape Juice Bar - A beverage bar
- Schaefer's Brewery - An old-fashioned brewery sponsored by Schaefer BeerChicago (1871):
- The Chicago Fire - A live street show every 20 minutes during which fake Chicago buildings "burn" and are put out by actors portraying firemen and audience volunteers; it was based on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871
- Great Lakes Cruise - A boat ride through the Great Lakes on one of two 110-foot, 400 passenger sternwheel boat, complete with calliopes
- Chippewa War Canoes - A boat ride in which the guests paddle canoes, led by an Indian guide
- Indian Village - A mock teepee village which housed Northwestern Indians making handicrafts for sale
- Santa Fé Railroad - One of two stations on the park's railroad; the ride was six minutes in duration
- Stockyards Restaurant - A steak restaurant
- Great Lakes Snack Stand - A snack bar
- Curio Shop - A souvenir shopThe Great Plains (1803-1900):
- Fort Cavalry - A log-by-log replica of an Army stockade
- Pony Express - A transportation ride to The Old Southwest area
- Fort Cavalry Stage Line - A stage coach ride past a buffalo herd, through the Rocky Mountains that ended with a mock robbery by actors playing outlaws
- Cavalry Rifles - A shooting gallery
- Borden's Farm - A working farm exhibit sponsored by the Borden Food Company that included horses, cows, sheep, pigs, poultry, corn and hay
- Borden's Barn Boudoir - A fully-furnished apartment for the Borden Company's mascot, Elsie the Cow
- Horse-Drawn Station Wagons - A transportation ride through Fort Cavalry and Borden's Farm
- Mule-Go-Round - A merry-go-round pulled by western mules
- Chuck Wagon Snack Stand - A snack bar
- Milk Bar - A beverage barSan Francisco (1906):
- Northwest Fur Trapper - A boat ride adventure, similar to Disney's Jungle Cruise
- Chinatown - A mock-up of San Francisco's Chinese district, with shops and restaurants
- Barbary Coast - A mock-up of San Francisco's entertainment district
- Seal Pool - A display of real Pacific harbor seals on rocks
- San Francisco Earthquake - A dark ride that simulates the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
- Railroad Station - The second stop on the Santa Fé Railroad
- Horse-Drawn Surreys - A transportation ride to the Southwest area
- Indian Trading Post - A souvenir shop
- Oriental Bazaar - Souvenir shops
- Italian Restaurant
- Chinese Restaurant
- Fisherman's Wharf - A snack stand with an actor dressed as an old salty sea man telling stories
- Hollywood Arena (added c. 1962) - An amphitheatre with animal acts and big top stunts, it also featured appearance from television personalities such as Sonny Fox, Joe Bolton, Claude Kirchner and Fred ScottThe Old Southwest (1890):
- Opera House and Saloon - A soft drink bar and 30 minute stage show featuring a four-piece band, dancing girls, singers and Western comedians
- Burro Trail - An outdoor ride on real burros
- Tucson Mining Company - An aerial lift ride to the top of the Rockies in gondolas designed to look like bucket ore cars
- Mine Caverns - A dark ride on an underground mine train through lava pits, giant bats and cave monsters
- Casa Loca - A walk-though house where the law of gravity is repealed
- Gunfight - A live street show with actors having a Western gun fight
- Texas Longhorns - An actual herd of steers with a cowboy looking after them
- Mexican Restaurant - A restaurant with a patio
- Mexican Market - Souvenir shopsNew Orleans-Mardi Gras:
- Civil War - A horse-drawn wagon adventure ride through recreations of American Civil War battle ground, camps, derailed trains and burning houses, which ends in the middle of a mock battle
- Buccaneers - A pirate-themed boat ride, similar to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean
- Danny the Dragon - A ride on a 74-foot long fire breathing dragon, suitable for children
- Kandy Kane Lane - A children's play area with a helicopter ride, a swan boat ride, a toy fair and a sandpile
- King Rex Carrousel - A merry-go-round
- Tornado Adventure - A dark ride that simulates driving though the cone of Louisiana twister
- Crystal Maze - The world's first glass-walled house of mirrors maze
- Pirate Gun Gallery - A shooting gallery
- Spin-A-Top - A spinning ride, similar to Disney's Tea Cups ride
- Plantation restaurant
- New Orleans Restaurant
- Pop Corn Stand
- Mardi Gras Snack Stand - A snack barSatellite City-The Future:
- Satellite City Turnpike - A miniature auto ride in futuristic cars
- Space Rover - A simulation of a space journey in a 250-seat theatre designed to look like the inside of a rocket
- Blast-Off Bunker- An authentic reproduction of a Cape Canaveral control room in which visitors could witness a simultated rocket launch from start to finish
- Moving Lake Walk - An automated moving sidewalk across a lake
- Special Exhibits - An area which presented exhibits about modern science and industry
- Satellite City Snack Bar
- Moon Bowl (added c. 1961) - A performing arts stage and 15,000 square foot dance floor that featured celebrity performers and guests, including Paul Anka, Count Basie, Dick Clark, Brenda Lee, Patti Page, the Everly Brothers, the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane, Ricky Nelson, the Lennon Sisters, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, and the stars of Car 54, Where Are You?, Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross. State Fair Midway (added in 1962):
- Astro-Ride - A space-themed roller coaster
- Harbor Tugboats - A new dock for the old ride
- Wriggly WormAdditional Areas (never constructed):
- Movie Lot - Presumably a recreation of a Hollywood set, this was to be located below San Francisco
- Florida - Was planned as an area below Satellite City, on the recreation of the Florida peninsula
Failure and demolition
In its opening season Freedomland
had already begun to run into major problems, both financially and otherwise.
On June 25, 1960, about a month after the park opened, a stagecoach overturned in the Great Plains section of the park injuring ten people. Three of the victims were hospitalized, including one with a snapped spine. The park initially denied any responsibility until a visitor publicly released a photograph of the accident.
Eventually, the injured parties filed lawsuits against the park.
A month later, on August 28, 1960, the front office was robbed of $28,836 by four armed men, who escaped in a boat. They were caught two weeks later and jailed the following year.
By the end of the 1961? season, Freedomland was already $8 million in debt. As it struggled to break even, the theme of the park was changed in an effort to appeal to more teenagers. The history exhibits and events would be joined by more conventional amusements, such as bumper cars, roller coasters, which broadened the appeal of the park fireworks displays, concerts. These changes resulted in a lawsuit. On September 5, 1962, Benjamin Moore, a paint company that sponsored an exhibit in Satellite City, sued Freedomland for $150,000 in damages. The company wanted to void their lease for their exhibit space, owing to "historical and educational" changes to the park's character. The suit was later dismissed.
On September 14, 1964, citing competition from the 1964 New York World's Fair, Freedomland filed for bankruptcy and was torn down. This date remains a questionable reason since the World's Fair would be finished after 1965. The real reason was more likely the quick profits that would be gained by the sale of the land for the Co-Op City housing development that would be built mostly on Freedomland's Parking lot. Freedomland filed for bankruptcy and was torn down starting in late 1965 as the park stayed closed for the 65 season.
The location of the park is now occupied by the large residential development Co-op City and the Bay Plaza Shopping Center.
Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood died in March of 1992. Ironically, the Walt Disney Company opened up an area of nightclubs at the Walt Disney World Resort called Pleasure Island, which was the same name as Wood's most successful amusement park.
Many of the Freedomland
rides and attractions were sold to other parks and relocated.
- The Crystal Maze, Danny the Dragon, The Mine Caverns, and the Tornado Adventure were moved to The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Lake George, New York over the course of a few years after Freedomland's closing. The Crystal Maze lasted into the late 1970s/early 1980s until it was converted into a concession stand. In 2006, the Crystal Maze's signature curly Q roof design was removed, leaving only the basic structure intact. In the late 1990s, Danny the Dragon was removed from park operations and placed in storage. In 2005, the Mine Caverns, which had been closed since the late 1990s, were gutted and removed. In 2003, the Tornado Adventure was removed and placed in storage as well.
- The Santa Fe Railroad Depot and the San Francisco Railroad Depot at Clark's Trading Post, an amusement park in Lincoln, New Hampshire. There is also a replica of Casa Loca, built from the same blueprints. Other Freedomland items that appear at Clark's include bricks from Little Old New York, seats from Space Rover and streetlamps from all over the park.
- ''The Canadian," one of the two sternwheers from The Great Lakes Cruise, is docked on the Byram River between Greenwich, Connecticut and Port Chester, New York.
- San Francisco Earthquake and Buccaneers were moved to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio in 1966. Earthquake closed in 1985 and Pirate Ride followed in 1996, however elements of both rides still exist in the park and in storage.