7. Before Freedomland: Empty Space, Big Ideas
Undated image. Courtesy of Thomas X. Casey
The flat marshy expanse that became Co-op City has long inspired audacious plans. Although it remained largely vacant until Freedomland was constructed, its potential for something big had long been recognized.
In 1927, both Major William F. Deegan and federal Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover called for a new airport on the site, with runways on land and seaplane access along the Hutchinson River. The Curtiss Airports Corporation purchased land there and announced plans for a Bronx Airport in June 1929. Construction was due to start in 1930, but, with the onset of the Great Depression, it floundered. Recurring efforts by Bronx political and business leaders throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s to revive it failed. Instead, Glenn H. Curtiss Airport in Queens, which opened in 1929 before the stock market crash, evolved into LaGuardia Airport.
Refusing to give up the ghost, the Bronx Chamber of Commerce opposed a 1948 proposal for a new horse racing track on the site because it was still pining for a new airport. But, with Idlewild Airport (later renamed JFK) opening that year, the Bronx Airport was superfluous. As for the race track, although blueprints were drawn up for a 25,000-seat venue, by the mid ’50s that proposal was scratched for a variety of reasons, leaving the site available for Freedomland a few years later.