What if someone told you that there was a place where you could reenact putting out the Chicago Fire, travel the Old Wild West with cowboys, and revel in Mardi Gras all within one space? To top it all off, you can see the most famous names in show business perform live; Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Tony Bennet, James Brown, Benny Goodman, and of course, Louis Armstrong. Such a place did exist — Freedomland USA, an often forgotten theme park built in the Bronx, NY. A North-East Disneyland; sadly, Freedomland only lasted five seasons from 1960 to 1964, but this truly unique theme park offers a story of American history that is rarely discussed.
C.V. Wood developed Freedomland; Wood previously helped developed the Disneyland theme park before a falling out with Walt Disney. However, the experience, connections, and relationships he had acquired during his time at Disney gave Wood the ability to plan and build his theme park. Freedomland USA was, as its name implies, an American based theme/amusement park that was divided into seven sections. Guests could experience America throughout various time-periods all in one location. Such areas included Old New York, turn of the century San Francisco, Chicago, The Great Plains, Old South-West, New Orleans, and Satellite City, a play on Cape Canaveral. Each section featured attractions that allowed guests to interact with various events and eras of American history. Also, the park was in the shape of the United States, adding an extra layer of America to the park’s concept.
One year after its opening, Freedomland added the Moon Bowl, a performance stage with a 15,000-square foot dancefloor and bandstand. The Moon Bowl was a huge attraction added to Freedomland, and performances were free with the admission. In its five year run, it featured over 150 performers ranging from current pop and rock acts of the ’60s to swing bands and orchestras of the ’40s. Louis Armstrong performed at the Moon Bowl for eight days in 1961, beginning on the 28th August, and again Labor Day weekend of 1964. What is noteworthy about Louis’ 1964 stint was that due to the holiday, Freedomland was deserted except for the Moon Bowl. Quite possibly, this may have been the cheapest ticket one could purchase to see Louis and his All Stars at this time in his career. Admission for one adult to Freedomland was one dollar; indeed, a bargain, come to see Louis and his All Stars, stay for the attractions of Freedomland.
Freedomland was ambitious and fondly remembered by those that went to the theme park back in the 1960s. Today, the grounds on which Freedomland once stood exist as CO-OP City, a cooperative housing community in the Bronx. There are many urban legends as to why Freedomland failed. One of the most popular stories was that Freedomland could not compete with the World’s Fair that was being held at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The World’s Fair, in actuality, had little to do with the park’s closure. In reality, the park was never intended to last, unbeknownst to the general public, Freedomland was developed despite it being a placeholder until CO-OP City construction began. The park filed for bankruptcy in 1965 and never opened for the 1965 season; it should also be noted that Freedomland was in a great deal of debt stemming from construction, operation budget, and various other factors. Freedomland most likely never got a chance to flourish truly, but what we are left with is an odd piece of American history.