If you cruised around Freedomland U.S.A.’s “Great Lakes” in the early 1960s, listen up. The Canadian floats again.
Yes, the 110-foot steel and concrete behemoth that thrilled Baychester amusement park-goers from 1960 to 1964 is moored on Port Chester’s Byram River waterfront.
Billy Frenz, a music producer and speedboat enthusiast, has spent 13 years renovating the Canadian – now the Showboat. It will open next summer as a party ship and jazz club.
“It’s been a labor of love,” said Frenz, a Connecticut native who bought the retired Freedomland attraction in 1995. “My heart and soul is in this baby.”
“This baby” was constructed by Todd Pacific Shipyards for Freedomland, the short-lived amusement park. Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, Walt Disney’s crooked Disneyland partner, mapped a miniature United States of America on Baychester landfill.
Freedomland featured theme areas from different American eras: Old New York, Gold Rush San Francisco, the Great Chicago Fire and Satellite City.
A team of 200 artists and architects, including 19 Academy Award nominees, designed the sets.
Covering 85 acres, Freedomland could accommodate 90,000 customers per day and contained eight miles of navigable waterways. It cost Wood $65 million to build.
“I was young back then and never saw Freedomland,” Frenz said. “But I know how popular it was in the Bronx.”
Frenz discovered the Canadian in Greenwich, CT, his hometown, where it served from 1965 on as the Showboat Hotel’s dockside lounge.
Freedomland, convenient for motorists but not straphangers, stopped selling tickets during its second day of operation – on account of traffic jams.
A month later, a stagecoach overturned inside the park, injuring ten people.
Soon after, four men robbed Freedomland’s front office and escaped by boat. By fall of 1962, the park was already $8 million in debt. Freedomland filed for bankruptcy in 1964 and was demolished to construct Co-op City.
Frenz’ remodeled Showboat boasts new windows, new paint, a dance floor, a wet bar, two bathrooms, 18 speakers and 2,000-watt stereo system.
Rather than replace the hull, Frenz encased it in foam. He estimates the Showboat’s capacity is 149 people.
“We’ve done a handful of private parties already, just to get ready,” Frenz said. “It’s riding two inches higher than ever before.”
The Canadian ran on a Mercedes Benz diesel engine, hooked to a rail five feet underwater.
The Showboat will host a jazz band, reunions and evening drinks. Frenz has preserved one seat from Freedomland’s original ride, on the boat’s upper deck.
©2008 Community News Group