Saturday, December 16, 2023

Freedomland USA

It's always fun to revisit Freedomland USA, once located in the Bronx. New York, that is. The story of the development and short existence of Freedomland is a fascinating one, and there are entire books written about it. You might want to peruse the Wikipedia entry, or read this nice article from the New York Almanack website. Or if you are a real brainiac, read both! Today's photos are from August, 1961 by the way.

Here's a look at the exterior of the Saloon/Opera House, a soft drink bar that featured a 30-minute stage show with a four-piece band, showgirls, singers and comedians. Some of New York City's radio disc jockeys and program hosts would broadcast from the stage. Was the aforementioned soft drink Pepsi Cola by any chance? Like many features of Freedomland, this Saloon echoed the one at Disneyland, though it sure looks different, architecturally, and I appreciate that. Notice the sign telling guests that Dean Hunter of WMGM would be broadcasting every Wednesday night, while another sign mentions Tom Gregory of WNYW; From 1958 to 1965, he was the host of the mid-afternoon show Cartoon Playtime, on which vintage Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons were shown, and also occasionally hosted Wonderama.

Now we're looking at "Little Old New York", where (among other delights) one could explore an old-time apothecary. Was there a jar of leeches inside? My Magic 8-Ball says "YOU MAY RELY ON IT". You could also get spritzed with perfume at R.H. Macy. But the cool kids liked to take a boat ride aboard the "Totsie", a New York Harbor tugboat. 

And finally, we're looking at the "Great Lakes", part of the "Old Chicago" section of the park. Everyone knows that the Great Lakes are right next to New York Harbor, it's just a fact. In the distance to the left we can see the silo from Borden's Farm, where Elsie the Cow could be seen in her "boudoir". Right in the center, there is the charred ruins of a building that burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. On the water is one of two 110-foot 400 passenger steamboats (the "American" and the "Canadian"); I learned that they had calliopes on board. To the right of the steamboat is the "Pert", the other New York Harbor tugboat. 

We miss you, Freedomland, USA!


Nanook said...

[At least] the Saloon/Opera House building is rather plain and simplistic in its design compared to just about any structure at Disneyland. But, who cares... oh, those clothes-!

Thanks, Major.

JB said...

I can't put my finger on it, but I've noticed (from this post and others) that the buildings in Freedomland don't quite measure up to Disneyland's architecture. They appear to be... cheaper, not as accurately detailed. Nice, but something is missing, or not done quite right.

Lots of ostrich plumed hats. I wonder if they came from the same company that supplied Disneyland? The clothing sure is varied in this photo. A riot of polka-dots, checks, flowers, and stripes.

That's a nice, clear photo of 'Little Old New York'. I wonder if that red, white, and blue flag (next to the water) is Freedomland's official flag?

The last pic reminds me of early Disneyland, before the foliage grew in. Berms, the place needs berms.

I see that Nanook noticed that there is something different about the architecture as well... and the varied clothing.

They tried really hard to duplicate the Anaheim Park, but fell short in some way. Maybe those small but noticeable differences contributed to Freedomland's demise. Thanks for the "compare and contrast" photos, Major.


Wow! When I saw todays opening image thumbnail of the “western saloon & opera house” I thought for sure it was mis identified to be FREEDOMLAND because it looked almost identical to a saloon & opera house ( I think it was called Turvey Hall) from Bush Gardens California …. ( Van Nuys) …. I wonder if any of the FREEDOMLAND designers went on to design any of the Bush Gardens ….
I think FREEDOMLAND was like several theme parks that tried to copy the Disneyland recipe via looks .., but the recipe was just missing some stuff ……

Bu said...

I think the recipe needed was Walt Disney...details, details, may not see them, but they are there, and your brain recognizes them. I've spent my entire adult career on creating things that can only be seen from the publics back brain. I've read many stories about Freedomland, and honestly, I didn't even know it existed until I started reading GDB. It's a very interesting tale with controversial CV Wood at the helm, and the Teamsters Union holding the mortgage...I think there may be just as many stories with Freedomland as there were with Disneyland 54-55: possibly even more. My personal opinion with my scant knowledge about this park is that it probably just lacked heart: and those things that lack heart: do not last. An interesting park, with a very short history. Thanks Major.

JG said...

So. Many. Questions.

While it’s clear the overall design details didn’t compare to Disneyland, and there were no movie connections to spice it up, it seems like proximity to a big city and the park’s attractions would been a popular combo.

Coney Island was no architectural marvel and it was pretty popular, even without cartoons.

Knotts, even Old Knotts, wasn’t a patch of Disneyland and it’s still going.

There’s more to this story, perhaps, than is told in the books and articles.

Thanks Major!


Melissa said...

It's barbaric how they used to just openly hunt Deans for sport.

Everybody in that first picture gets the Vintage Fashion Award.

Hey, if you got extra steam lying around, you might as well get a calliope.

Dean Finder said...

I think Walt's team of set designers was a big difference. They knew how to focus on the elements that made a place look "real" in a way that works almost subconsciously.

Everyone else learned from Disney, and even today few others bother.


Major; I went to Bush Gardens Van Nuys once …. And the whole park was 40% saloon and 60% birds …. If was after all built next to the Anheuser beer brewery!! Lol. I remember there being several
Beer tasting pavilions around the entire park . The log flume “logs” were made to look like beer barrels … the Turvey Hall building housed a “1890’s Vaudeville Show” ( Golden Horseshoe & Knott’s Birdcage theater inspired I’m sure) .

When I went to Busch Gardens in Van Nuys it was POST MONORAIL ACCIDENT so the “turn-of-the - century style” monorail system that connected the brewery to the park was still intact but no longer operating. They had also slowly begun to close other rides and attractions as busch gardens had great difficulty competing with Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. I had also been to BUSCH GARDENS- THE OLD WORLD in Virginia and BUSCH GARDENS - THE DARK CONTINENT in Florida … those sister parks also were connected via monorail to beer breweries at one point .

Busch Gardens had a walk around character Eagle and park mascot that looked very similar to AMERICA SINGS’ Sam The Eagle …

FREEDOMLAND had walk around characters BRASSY the brass knuckles , SCABBS the Union strike breaker , and Valeria Delvecvhio ..the New York girl who never says she’s sorry ..

Anonymous said...

I assume a big reason it was done with less detail was what those fascinating books ultimately point out…that it was never meant to last more than a few years - the whole thing was a real estate scam; develop the land into Something, then zone it for the use they actually wanted all along.

Rarely is Disneyland considered an urban planning instrument, but it’s one of the biggest around the world in various ways.



While not a real estate scam, Tokyo Disneyland in Japan, was only expected to operate for about 10 years by the ORIENTAL LAND company, the owners of tTOKYO Disneyland. Walt Disney productions had to do a pretty big presentation focused on just how overtime the park will keep being added to a redeveloped like Disneyland in Walt Disney World originally .Walt Disney productions had to do a pretty big presentation focused on just how overtime the park will keep being added to an redeveloped like Disneyland in Walt Disney World originally the ORIENTAL LAND company estimated that Tokyo Disneyland had about a 10 year life expectancy of profits. Because of this uncertainty and Walt Disney Productions in the USA being preoccupied with its Epcot center development. Most of Tokyo Disneyland structures were given temporary foundations on the reclaimed land that tTOKYO Disneyland is built on overtime. The settling of the structures in the land required the specially built foundation jacks, be used to their extremes and far exceeding their expectancy use, hence why I Tokyo Disneyland space Mountain is about to be completely demolished and reconstructed all new, since the foundation can no longer be raised or leveled . The property at Tokyo Disneyland was built on, was reclaimed from the bay, and set aside by the government to be use solely for recreational purposes . Because the ORIENTAL LAND company really only intended to operate, took a Disneyland for about a decade. The majority of the attractions were all basically kits from existing parks. This was to cut down on the development costs for some thing that may not have been there for more than a few decades. Tokyo Disneyland is actually one of the most successful Disney theme parks ever.