What’s the deal with those Pleasure Island Road signs on Route 128 in Wakefield?

The signs near Exit 60 harken back to a long-defunct amusement park once billed as the "Disneyland of the East."

A vintage photo from the mid-20th century showing the Pleasure Island theme park. Families can be shown milling around an area with Old West-themed storefronts.
While Wakefield's Pleasure Island amusement park only lasted 11 seasons, its memory lives on half a century later. Bob McLaughlin/Courtesy

In 1959, a glittering new amusement park beckoned just off Route 128 in Wakefield.

Billed as the “Disneyland of the East,” Pleasure Island had it all: themed restaurants, mock gunfights, and 80 acres of rides and attractions built to rival the House of Mouse.

The new park dreamed big and burned out quickly, closing after just 11 seasons. 

A few reminders of its existence are still around today, including “Pleasure Island Road” signs on Interstate 95/Route 128. Oh, and an animatronic whale nestled in an office park (more on that in a bit).

More from Wickedpedia:

Pleasure Island’s brief run ended more than 50 years ago, and the site has long since been redeveloped. So, why do the Pleasure Island Road signs persist today? 


True to New England, the answer has a lot to do with local history. 

The backstory

Designed by C.V. Wood, the man who planned and supervised Disneyland’s creation several years earlier, Pleasure Island opened for business on June 22, 1959. Its creators hoped to net 1.2 million guests in that first season, according to author Robert McLaughlin, a co-founder of the Friends of Pleasure Island who’s written multiple books about the park.

“It was pretty cool, except for one little minor problem: We had more rain in that season … than we’d had since I think around 1927,” he told Boston.com.

Pleasure Island couldn’t even attract the visitors it needed in order to pay the bills, and the park went bankrupt in its very first season. 

In a vintage photo from the mid-20th century, a man on a horse is shown wearing Old West themed clothing and a bandana around his face. He is pointing a gun at two men in train conductor costumes, who are shown handing him a pouch.
At Pleasure Island, actors staged mock gunfights and train robberies. – Bob McLaughlin/Courtesy

A change of ownership and pricing policy helped turn the park into a profitable venture, McLaughlin explained. Over the years, Pleasure Island hosted big-name acts like the Three Stooges, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. 

In the amusement park’s Old West-themed area, actors would stage mock gunfights and train robberies. “Clipper Cove,” a recreation of a New England fishing village, was home to the star “Moby Dick” attraction, where an animatronic whale would rise from a pond and spout water. 


“You’re gonna hear a lot of commotion about whether the whale is still in the water,” McLaughlin said. “It still is; it’s still there.” 

Last year, YouTuber sparkiegames visited the site — now an office park — and voyaged into the pond to confirm the whale remains in its watery grave. 

Why did Pleasure Island close? 

After several years and a few changes in ownership, the park was suffering from underinvestment and diminishing foot traffic, McLaughlin explained. By its last season, he said, Pleasure Island was a “ghost of the park that opened up in 1959.”

The way McLaughlin sees it, part of Pleasure Island’s failure can be chalked up to a radical shift in the 1960s, when America swung from the bucolic ideals of “Leave It to Beaver” to the countercultural revelations of Woodstock. 

The tame Moby Dick ride just didn’t cut it anymore; kids wanted roller coasters. 

“But the biggest reason [that Pleasure Island closed] was the land became more valuable than the business itself,” McLaughlin said. “If there’s a bottom line, that’s the bottom line.” 

In a vintage photo from the mid-20th century, a body of water is shown with a small boat floating in the water. Several buildings can be seen on the shore, in addition to a white lighthouse.
Pleasure Island’s Clipper Cove was home to the star “Moby Dick” attraction, which included an animatronic whale that would rise from the water. – Bob McLaughlin/Courtesy

What about those highway signs? 

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Pleasure Island Road signs on I-95/128 have been in place since the 1960s, when Pleasure Island Road ran from Salem Street to the park’s entrance. 


Wakefield renamed most of the road after the park closed, and Pleasure Island Road is now just a short stretch within the highway interchange. Like its namesake, however, the road left a lasting impression — there’s even a song that shares its name.

A green highway sign is pictured on the side of the road. It reads "Pleasure Island Road, Exit 60."
On Interstate 95/Route 128, signs for Pleasure Island Road are a nod to a long-defunct amusement park. – Abby Patkin/Boston.com Staff

The new highway signs near Exit 60 were recently installed as part of a MassDOT project to replace and update guide and traffic signage in the area, according to the department. 

MassDOT kept Pleasure Island Road on those signs “both in recognition of the significance of the Pleasure Island name to the local area, and as it is a familiar street name for traffic using the Salem Street interchange,” a spokesperson told Boston.com. 

Captured in those highway signs is the acknowledgement that even half a century later, many North Shore natives carry nostalgia for Pleasure Island. 

“It was just a different time, different era, different space,” McLaughlin said. “So a lot of people really reach out for those memories.”


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