From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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
Freedomland 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 where Disneyland 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 embezzeling 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 of 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 Magic Kingdom.
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 near Denver (closed, 1960 but revitalized in 1971), Pleasure Island in Wakefield, Massachusetts in 1959 (closed, 1969) and finally, Freedomland in 1960. 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 United States. Guests entered at Little Old New York, 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.
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, 1960, Freedomland 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.
Themed areas and attractions
Freedomland 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 Scurry - A transportation ride to the Chicago area
Political Pep Rally - A live street show that included a German Band, an 1880s 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 1890s style
Grape Juice Bar - A beverage bar
Schaefer's Brewery - An old-fashioned brewery sponsored by Schaefer Beer
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 shop
The 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 bar
San 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 disctrict
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 Sante Fé Railroad
Horse Drawn Surreys - A transportation ride to the Southwest area
Indian Trading Post - A souvenir shop
Oriental Bazaar - Souvenir shops
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 Kirshner and Fred Scott
The 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 shops
New 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
New Orleans Restaurant
Pop Corn Stand
Mardi Gras Snack Stand - A snack bar
Satellite 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, the Everly Brothers, the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane, Ricky Nelson, the Lennon Sisters, Bobby Rydell 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
Additional 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 1960 - 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, which to 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, It had lasted five seasons. 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.
Danny the Dragon and the Mine Caverns are now at The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Lake George, New York. The Crystal Maze is there too, but is now a funnel cake stand. Tornado Adventure was moved there and renovated, but closed in 2003 and placed into storage.
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 at the Riverboat at the Showboat Inn in Greenwich, Connecticut.
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.