Astroworld 1968-2005
October 24, 2005 8:56 PM   Subscribe

So long, and thanks for all the thrills. This weekend, Astroworld (I refuse to prepend "Six Flags") will close its doors. Envisioned in 1968 by Judge Roy Hofheinz (who also brought us Houstonians a major league baseball team, and a stadium in which they could play), the amusement park was where I spent a lot of my childhood in the 70s. Grass roots movements to save the park have failed, and thus it's time to say goodbye to the place that played host to one of the best rollercoasters in the world, a ride that scared the crap out of me, a double ferris wheel with a twist, as well as the Boogie Fog Disco, where I learned how to do The Hustle. All's not lost, as at least I can download the Texas Cyclone, but I still feel a little misty-eyed for the boy who spent most of his weekends in this magical and wondrous place. Farewell.
posted by WolfDaddy (58 comments total)
Why's it closing? I ask because I am utterly too lazy to read any of your links. What other amusement parks are in Houston?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:59 PM on October 24, 2005

EB, it's closing because it's just no longer profitable; the park's been in decline for quite some time.

What other amusement parks are in Houston? Uhhhhh...Tom DeLay's home district is in the next county over.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:02 PM on October 24, 2005

You seem to have a demented sense of "amusement", WolfDaddy.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:05 PM on October 24, 2005

Yeah, I was really shocked to hear about Astroworld closing. It's surreal. I never even went there.

Also, I never realized you were right down the street Wolfdaddy.
posted by puke & cry at 9:05 PM on October 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

I worked at Astroworld when I was teen, flipping burgers.

It sucked. The only thing good about it was you could ride the rides during weekday mornings, when the lines weren't 700 miles long.

Not to mention, Houston sucks too. They care nothing for historical preservation or city planning. I wonder what they'll replace it with. A mall? A megachurch? Or maybe the world's largest strip club?
posted by fungible at 9:08 PM on October 24, 2005

I adore the word "prepend."
posted by shmegegge at 9:15 PM on October 24, 2005

Bah, the Chronicle's website is less than easy to find more information, but here's a story about the park closing, and a nice little memorial.

Also the site (linked in "failed" in the FPP) has some really cool old pictures of the place in its heydey, as well as a surprising amount of video footage of the more modern rides.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:16 PM on October 24, 2005

No way! I remember going there as a kid. I always liked it better than the one in Dallas.
posted by blendor at 9:17 PM on October 24, 2005

Huh. The article makes it sound as if there's not another major amusement park in Houston. Which, based upon my limited experience in the area, seems correct. That's just plain weird. For the US's fourth-largest city, how can there not be a strong market for an amusement park. They point out that the land has become very valuable, but it's also the case the revenues have been declining. Why?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:22 PM on October 24, 2005

Even though I've been barred from the premises, I'm saddened to hear Astroworld is going down. It was a neat place with great coasters.

When I was in jr. high school in south Texas, my band class sold overpriced crap candy bars all year for a day trip to Astroworld during the first week of summer. We bussed from Corpus Christi to Houston, getting there about 10 am, and I had a blast in the park for a couple of hours.

Then I found myself alone in a cable car going across the park, about 40 feet dead above the empty stage where Shaun Cassidy was going to be performing that night.

Then and now, I can't stand Shaun Cassidy. I hung my junk over the side and peed on the stage.

Naturally, the Astrofuzz were waiting for me when I got to the other side. I was dragged into the administrative offices, photographed and had to sign a form acknowledging that I was barred from the park immediately, and if I ever set foot inside the gates again, I'd be arrested. Then the band director - who was INCREDIBLY pissed - dragged me off to the bus in the parking lot, where I got to wait with the driver for the next 8 hours until everyone else came back for the trip back home.

That part of the trip sucked. But I still have fond memories of the place.
posted by davelog at 9:24 PM on October 24, 2005

Well, Six Flags Inc is about 2 billion dollars in debt...that's a factor.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:25 PM on October 24, 2005

Aww, I remember going to Astroworld. Also, Hanna Barbera Land? Does that ring a bell for anyone?
posted by sugarfish at 9:30 PM on October 24, 2005

HB Land's a little after my time, but I sure remember Marvel McFey!
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:32 PM on October 24, 2005

Man, there's nothing sadder than abandoned amusement parks from your youth. I lost Frontier Village and Marineworld from my youth in San Jose.
posted by mecran01 at 9:39 PM on October 24, 2005

I had my first cup of coffee at Astroworld when I was about eight or nine years old (early 1970s). I'm still addicted to the stuff. I think my mom was so worn out, she caved in and gave me a little coffee with lots of cream and sugar.

I know I went there several more times in the 70s, but the coffee is the only memory I have of Astroworld.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:53 PM on October 24, 2005

I guess things were never the same after 5/25/02.

Damn you, Mark McGrath.
posted by thatweirdguy2 at 9:56 PM on October 24, 2005

HB land? How about Jellystone Park? (embedded sound, LOUD) I still miss Riverview Park, and I wasn't even born when it closed. It was supposed to have had one of the all-time greatest wooden coasters. RIP.
posted by maryh at 10:01 PM on October 24, 2005

God, I spent so many days here as a kid - this makes me really sad to hear that it's closing down. I'll never forget the Warp 2000 ride, it was my absolute favorite when I was young...

Jesus this sucks.
posted by thewittyname at 10:29 PM on October 24, 2005

Roy Hofheinz?

Is that the guy from Raising Arizona?
posted by Relay at 10:40 PM on October 24, 2005

What about Waterworld? Is that being closed also?
I lived in Houston for 16 years until '96 and I used to buy season tickets for both parks for my kids and myself, we had good times!
posted by CRESTA at 10:47 PM on October 24, 2005

Why are the amusement parks dying?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:15 PM on October 24, 2005

Is... Is it global warming?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:16 PM on October 24, 2005

mecran, Marineworld is gone? I didn't know that. What a bummer.
posted by Malor at 11:31 PM on October 24, 2005

Hmm, it looks pretty alive to me.

I do have some vague memory of them moving when I was very young, so that might be what you mean.
posted by Malor at 11:34 PM on October 24, 2005

I seem to recall an earlier Chronicle article mentioning that the waterpark would remain (archive search proved futile). It also mentioned the management company of the Astrodome not renewing Astroworld's contract for parking being a contributing factor in the park's closing.

Before we were old enough to enter Astroworld, Dad would take us to a place we fondly called "Stinkoworld", so named for the tethered donkeys that paraded you through a circle of their own feces. There were also a couple of small "rollercoasters" and carousels, but I think that was about it. It was just down the road from the original Antone's Poboys.
posted by medium format at 12:01 AM on October 25, 2005

The ravages of Peak Fun. Welcome to our new world.
posted by sourwookie at 12:07 AM on October 25, 2005

According to a few of the things I've read (and sorry if it was mentioned in one of the links, I didn't see it), Six Flags is selling the park mainly because the land it's on is worth more to them than the park can generate for them in the short term. Land values have gone up a lot in that area, and Six Flags stand to make a pretty decent chunk of change from just selling it for the land to make a dent in that massive debt they've accrued.

Six Flags spent years buying up almost every park they could get their hands on, going deeply into debt as they did so, but figuring that the parks would help them make the money back. Attendance started faltering, so they spent oodles on big new roller coasters, hoping they'd bring in the crowds. They built one out here in Los Angeles called "X", which admittedly is just an amazing ride, the only one of its kind. However, it went way over budget, so much so that Six Flags refused to pay the entire price of the ride and ended up putting the manufacturer, Arrow Dynamics, into bankruptcy (later to be bought out by S&S Power). In the meantime, that ride that was supposed to bring huge crowds and money to Six Flags Magic Mountain ended up disappointing not in its ability to attract new riders, but the ability to bring them back. Capacity was horrid, and lines of over 7 hours were not unheard of, reportedly leading to people fainting in the heat during Memorial Day weekend after it opened.

They had another debacle with Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. This time, instead of a brand-new design, they went for a record-breaker of a semi-proven design (one that's worked very well in smaller models, but has had some problems in the guise of Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point). However, it's been plagued with problems and hasn't had the capacity to keep riders moving through the line at any decent rate.

In the meantime, almost no money has gone into the upkeep of the parks, affecting everything from the overall cleanliness of the parks, the paint on the rides, and ride maintenance. Customer service has suffered greatly as well. I was a season pass holder to my local Six Flags park for a number of years...I stopped renewing two years ago and have only been once since.

The point of that whole rant is that Six Flags are actively doing pretty much whatever they can to keep themselves alive at this point, and part of that is selling off a park they bought out in their mad buying spree for scrap. I've heard nothing of any intentions to relocate the rides there. It sounds like Six Flags came in, bought up Astroworld, and have now killed it. Don't be surprised if a couple of their other properties end up meeting the same end.
posted by Swervo at 1:35 AM on October 25, 2005

My opinion, after a recent trip to Six Flags Over St. Louis herein mentioned as SFOSL)?


Mind you, I did enjoy some of the rides. I'm a big wood coaster fan, and those are becoming quite difficult to find. (I must say, though, SFOSL's Screaming Eagle was definitely looking on the ragged side.)

My big problem was the feel of the park. (Mind you, the Vengaboys now send me into a psychotic killing rage, due to the constant dose of THAT song...)

Before anyone jumps me for being a shill of corporate evil, this is purely subjective.

When at Disneyland (never had a chance to check out World, or any foreign parks) at various points throughout my life, I honestly felt that the goal of Disney was to entertain and amuse customers first and separate them from their money second.

I most certainly didn't feel the same with Six Flags.

As an example, Disney's FastPass system only costs some patience for later accelerated access to a ride. At SFOSL, it's 10 dollars to rent a pager for a single ride, and an additional 10 per person.

I truthfully felt SFOSL was a money sieve designed solely to remove one's hard earned bank as quickly and efficiently as possible, with a few rides thrown in to distract you from the distressing rate of fiscal depletion.

Second is the aesthetic approach. Disney manages to not miss many details. For example, in Toontown, you'll look down and see a Mousehole, instead of the more traditional manhole, complete with custom cover. I really enjoy the illusion they have arranged with many of their lands, and while waiting for a turn on their rides. (Not to mention progressively filthier fantasies involving Snow White, Mary Poppins, and, later, Belle (love them geek girls) as I aged.)

SFOSL, on the other hand, impressed me as throwing darts at a map of the park, then doing a few measurements afterwards.

And, no, mind you, I'm not a rabid Disney fan. I have enjoyed a wide variety of domestic amusement parks (with whiplash induced concussion possibly accounting for my view of the world), ranging from the small to the huge.

I loved hearing many of your memories of the Six Flags parks, and thank you for sharing them.

For me, however, my memory of my last Six Flags experience will assure it will remain my last ever.
posted by Samizdata at 2:06 AM on October 25, 2005

yeah, i grew up at astroworld too, very sad...
posted by rhyax at 2:10 AM on October 25, 2005

Six Flags was (and probably still is) a slime ball company. I grew up in that part of the world ('60s and '70s) and had thought the story of 'Six Flags over Texas' was sort of cool and it was only re-enforced by the two years of Texas history that we were required to take over the less than one year of US history. Forget the rest of the world. Suddenly, there were 'Six Flags' over everything, the meaning was lost and my world was shattered...

Astroworld was cool comparatively , especially that very cool stadium next door. Plus, the whole association with NASA, Space, I Dream of Jeannie 1960's and 70's kitsch etc. Sad, but not surprised to see it finally going.
posted by michswiss at 3:26 AM on October 25, 2005

When I was a kid my mom would drop us off and it was our first taste of doing something big w/o our parents. Although I don't live in Houston any longer, I still have fond memories.
posted by damnitkage at 4:50 AM on October 25, 2005

Samizdata -

I feel the same about Disney - they're out to separate you from your money, but they'll make it as painless as possible. SF Over Wherever - the food's overpriced, the food service is grudging at best, the parks are undermaintained, and with a daily ticket cost at about $35 a head, it's amazing that folks will jam those parks on a good day. The rides are okay - but damn, I hate standing in line for an hour or more for a ride that lasts a minute or two.
posted by JB71 at 4:55 AM on October 25, 2005

posted by foot at 6:25 AM on October 25, 2005

I join the voices in mourning. I too visited AstroWorld several times as a kid, very wound up and happy each time. The Texas Cyclone was an excellent coaster.

Swervo, thanks for a very clear explanation of Six Flags' troubles and poor decision making. I would only add that attendance is a corollary problem to corporate shareholder-think. Park attendance is not what it was in the 70s and 80s. In fact, attendance at almost any kind of public amusement facility is in decline. In my field (museums, especially outdoor history museums), it's easy to trace a long gentle downslope beginning in the late 70s. People in tourism, cultural attractions, and amusements have been seriously concerned for the last five years or so; a common topic at conferences is puzzling/theorizing over the attendance decline. Is it just that people have so many more choices than they used to? Are those choices really better (more entertaining/rewarding) or just cheaper, more convenient, or easier than traveling to a destination? Have our values changed in such a way that we'd rather cocoon within small family/ethnic/class groups than throw ourselves in the mix with the sprawl of humanity? Many theories, but no one knows.

The parks themselves have contributed to this with their ridiculous food and drink prices, and the insulting idea of premium passes, which are fundamentally anti-democratic and really rather insulting after you've already paid $40 to get into the place. Then, too, the real estate market has started to swing its broad axe across land parcels that were once open to the public. Along the Jersey shore, many a town that once boasted a mile-long strip of rides, games, and food stalls has fallen to condo developers. Why? THey can pay much more than any amusement developer for the property -- and they have fewer insurance woes, since they're not a public accommodation. It's a greater loss than we realize, because these places were once cultural commons areas that attracted people of all economic classes and walks of life. Amusement parks, public parks, boardwalks, concert halls -- these were once where we mixed, once where we looked around and were able to discern who was in our community. These were places where we bought into the idea that fun is something you have when you are surrounded by many other people, doing something excitingly physically involving in an environment which is totally out of the ordinary. What will the condos that are eventually built on this land say about our cultural values?

For some thought-provoking perspective, read "Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements".

So those are my ruminations. I'll close by just saying how sickening, repugnant, and coldly capitalistic the following official corporate-speak is. I mean, 'unlocking shareholder value' -- *retch*.

“We are always looking for opportunities to enhance shareholder value. In assessing the performance of this property relative to the significant increase in real estate values in the Houston market, we concluded that the best way to unlock this value for shareholders was to pursue a sale of the property,” said Kieran Burke, chairman and CEO of Six Flags....We are very encouraged by the prospect that the site has great potential for economic development and are hopeful this sale will ultimately result in significant job creation and economic activity for the city of Houston.”
posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on October 25, 2005

Great comment, Miko. Much food for thought. I wasn't really aware of this trend and it saddens me greatly.

Oddly, I have to disagree with you about the "unlocking shareholder value" thing, though. Yes, it's a cliched phrase, but it's not really euphemistic and certainly not vacuous. It's a fairly concise way of saying what it's saying.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:52 AM on October 25, 2005

Waterworld will also be closed, but many rides will be moved to Splashtown, another Six Flags park.

I went to Astroworld last weekend for a final visit and it was a nightmare. In all my years of going to that park (since I was a kid in the 70s) I've never seen the crowds that were there last weekend. It took an hour and a half just to get into the parking lot and another hour to get inside of the park.

On the plus side, all of the gift shop items are 50% off and they've dragged out some old stuff too. So, I managed to get a couple of postcards from the Bamboo Shoot.
posted by Serena at 8:18 AM on October 25, 2005

Samizdata: I think many, if not most, people will agree with you about Disney. I feel the exact same way. In fact, with folks around me, that interpretation is so common that I referred to a certain psy-trance party organizer as "the Disney of psy-trance raves", and folks understood (without me having to actually say it) that I meant "all the major psy-trance organizers are all about the money, but this organizer puts so much effort into entertainment, decoration, and general quality that it doesn't bother you that it's about the money".

Michswiss: You may (probably) already know, but just in case: that "2 years Texas history, <1 year US history" thing has changed. When I was going to junior high (late 80's) it was (I believe) 1 year Texas, 1 year US.
posted by Bugbread at 8:23 AM on October 25, 2005

It was one year when I took it, too. But it had the biggest fucking textbook I'd ever carried in all my years of school.

And this kinda blows. Thoughts of playing hookey to go ride roller coasters have gotten me through many a Fall since I've actually had to work for a living.
posted by Cyrano at 9:16 AM on October 25, 2005

That's sad. Growing up there in the early 80's, our apartment was right across from Astroworld and my bedroom window faced it directly.

I have many great memories of being put to bed only to secretly get up and watch the fireworks every night at 9:00 from my window.
posted by kaseijin at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2005

....not to mention the great memory of attending/participating in a breakdance contest there in about 1983...

Needless to say, I was eliminated early. Very early.
posted by kaseijin at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2005

I liked davelog's story.
posted by Peter H at 9:45 AM on October 25, 2005

Houston is incredibly dull. Like a un-monitored growth in the gut of Texas, pulling blood off the land, bulging but without any organ function or purpose. Dallas at least is intimidating and evil in a Darth Vader LBJ way. San Antonio is fun because there's no law there, you can get away with murder. But Houston is just dull. Even the skyline is dull, evenly spaced, identical lego block buildings.

Austin of course is the gorgeous heart and soul of the state, if not this part of the country. It's the only city other than Denton in Texas (city not town) that you feel alive in. God bless it, the rest are just grey tumors.

Astroworld was wonderfully stupid and fun, but you had to go to Houston to get there. Now all that's left for humans to visit that city is IKEA. I'll think of Houston the next time I need a couch.
posted by Peter H at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2005

Peter H: Say what you will about the city, I think you have the Houston skyline mixed up with some other city's. Right?
posted by deadfather at 10:09 AM on October 25, 2005

Amusement parks are incredibly difficult to 'save'. I know of one rather small park in northwest Pennsylvania that was taken over by a non-profit group and supposedly they are just barely holding onto it.
posted by mischief at 10:14 AM on October 25, 2005

Anyone ride both the Texas Cyclone and the Coney island one?
posted by eddydamascene at 10:23 AM on October 25, 2005

deadfather - somehow driving through the city on the highway gives the same postcard view a lackluster flat feeling (and look at that spacing; it's so specific!), but it's completely my subjective op'n. Granted I spent eight years in Chicago so Houston just seems like a lot of office buildings.

However, Go Astros. Sincerely.
posted by Peter H at 10:36 AM on October 25, 2005

Yeah Peter H, if Houston's architectural style (along with New York and Chicago) is good enough for Sim City 4, it's good enough for me!

Identical Pennzoil Place Lego Bank of America Center block Heritage Plaza buildings? City Hall

On preview: Perhaps you should have driven through downtown :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:39 AM on October 25, 2005

good enough for Sim City 4

Ha, give me Katamari Damacy and we'll talk, ;)

WolfDaddy - Ha, I did, I do! it bored, It bores!

(Rothko chapel however is one of the planet's treasures, however)
posted by Peter H at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2005

You feel alive in Denton? Good lord, man, did you spend much time here?

Austin, yes. Agree 100%. But Denton? Eh, I guess by comparison, maybe. At least it's not Dallas.

And yeah, Denton has a few good things going for it:

- Voted for a rail system to connect to Dallas.
- Biodiesel in city vehicles, soon for public consumption.
- Curbside recycling.
- Attempting to vote in wastewater recycling.
- The best goddamned taquerias anywhere.
- The cheapest bars in the country.

Okay, okay... for Texas, it's not that bad - an island of liberal idealism in a sea of vivid red. Still, after 10 years here, I want out. And I don't think I'd say that I felt particularly alive here.
posted by kaseijin at 10:51 AM on October 25, 2005

Okay, perhaps you should have rolled through downtown. Heh.

Rothko is lovely. And if you agree Paris is the capital of France then we're back in agreement. [/KITH Brain Candy]
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:51 AM on October 25, 2005

Still, after 10 years here, I want out. And I don't think I'd say that I felt particularly alive here.

Maybe it's because you're dead inside...?
posted by foot at 11:37 AM on October 25, 2005

I like Denton because it feels like Austin might have felt like before Willy Nelson was canonized and the "KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD" bumper stickers.

We can agree on Paris, WolfDaddy! We'll always have Paris!

no hate on your town, just like to make fun of the larger texas cities
posted by Peter H at 11:41 AM on October 25, 2005

Don't forget to hate on Amarillo and Lubbock. I loved living in Austin. I enjoyed living in Dallas (don't know if I would today, I was 20 then, it was 1984). Houston has always seemed very "blah" to me, which is weird given that it's the US's 4th largest city. My best friend is from there and he's fond of it. But one time we were talking, this was after he'd spent some time in Chicago, that I always had thought that his affection for Houston must have been because, being so huge, there were a few really cool neighborhoods and those are what he had in mind. Not really, he said. Chicago was much, much cooler. He just likes Houston because he grew up there and he can't help it. So I abandoned any sense I had that Houston might have some truly legitimate redeeming qualities. An ex grew up there, too, and she doesn't have anything nice to say about it. True, both of them have spent much of their adult lives in Austin, so that tells you something.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:13 PM on October 25, 2005

And all I knew about Denton is NTSU, and being a musician, that's always been something very positive about it. A close friend of mine went there for awhile.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:15 PM on October 25, 2005

EB: NTSU stopped being NTSU in 1988, and became UNT (University of North Texas). The call letters for the radio station, for some reason, are KNTU, though. Shame.
posted by Bugbread at 1:30 PM on October 25, 2005

Don't forget to hate on Amarillo and Lubbock.

Hate directed at Houston, Dallas, Amarillo, Lubbock, or Denton is misdirected, because that's hate that could have been directed at Midland / Odessa. And however much hate is currently being flung at Midland / O-fucking-dessa, it ain't enough. I mean... damn.

Though the CAF boys put on a good AIRSHO.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:34 PM on October 25, 2005

The call letters for the radio station, for some reason, are KNTU, though.

Because it was NTSU when they started the station?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:36 PM on October 25, 2005

posted by Bugbread at 4:12 PM on October 25, 2005

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