In the late 1950s, Texas-based property developer Angus G. Wynne Jr. visited the newly-opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California. After seeing the full potential of theme parks, Wynne decided that he would create his own in the Lone Star State. This led to the development of Six Flags Over Texas, which would open in Arlington in August of 1961. The name “Six Flags” came from the six nations that have governed Texas; Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. These would also operate as the park’s six themed lands, all of which would contain simple attractions and shows. Six Flags Over Texas was a success, and Wynne quickly began the development of a second park. In June of 1967, Six Flags Over Georgia would open outside of Atlanta. Just four years later in June of 1971, a third park, Six Flags Over Mid-America, would debut in St. Louis, Missouri. This would be the last full-fledged amusement park in the United States to be constructed by the company, and every Six Flags to open after 1971 was an acquisition of a pre-existing park. The first of these would come in 1975, with Six Flags rebranding a young park located in the heart of Houston, Texas. [TV announcer] This crowd of more than 50,000 attending a Houston Astros baseball game in the world’s largest air-conditioned room, is but one example of the reason more than 4 million persons annually, attend all kinds of events and visitor tours in the Astrodome. [Narrator] In the early 1960s, Judge Roy Hofheinz, a former mayor of the city of Houston, spent over $30 million to construct a sports stadium for the Houston Astros baseball team. The complex would be named the Astrodome, which like the Astros, was given its name in honor of the newly-constructed manned spacecraft center. Due to the scorching climate of coastal Texas, Hofheinz decided to make the Astrodome covered, creating the world’s first fully-domed sports stadium. The Astrodome opened in 1965 to much fanfare, being hailed as the 8th wonder of the world for its unique and impressive design. After the success of the stadium, Hofheinz saw potential in a larger entertainment complex, which he would call the Astrodomain. This was to include a convention center named the Astrohall, on-property hotels, and a brand-new amusement park named AstroWorld. Hofheinz wasted no time, purchasing additional land on Houston’s Loop 610, and beginning development on the Astrodomain. The plans for Hofheinz’s theme park were finalized in January of 1967. In the fall of that same year, Hofheinz would announce the park to the public. He touted that the park would become the world’s greatest tourist attraction, with the potential of 1.5 million guests every year. Hofheinz had consulted with management at Disneyland Park as well as Six Flags Over Texas in an attempt to avoid issues that the parks face during their openings. Hofheinz have purchased around 115 acres of land on the other side of the interstate from the Astrodome, and only around 57 acres of the plot would be used for the park at opening, with plenty of room to expand. AstroWorld was designed by architect and Hollywood art director Randall Duell. After spending decades as a designer on many famous Hollywood films, Duell would create a firm that would combine his architectural skill and cinematic techniques. With this, he and his associates would go on to design a large number of US theme parks, including Six Flags Over Texas. Designing AstroWorld was not going to be Duell’s easiest assignment, and many obstacles were clear from the start. The first issue with the area was that the ground was particularly wet and swampy. This required over a million cubic yards of dirt to be brought in to fill the foundation in order to prevent flooding. Also, Loop 610 separated the park from the rest of the Astrodomain, so a private bridge would be built across the interstate in order to allow guest parking on the Astrodome side to walk to AstroWorld. At one point, discussion of a monorail loop for the Astrodomain properties was discussed, but this never came to fruition. Finally, Houston’s heat would bring out the innovator and Hofheinz once again. He, Duell, and the air conditioning company, Carrier would create an elaborate outdoor cooling system, in which fans blowing cold water would be placed throughout the park, blending in with the theming. The park received elaborate landscaping, giving AstroWorld lush greenery that was rarely seen in the area. As for the layout, Duell divided the park into 8 themed areas; American Square, Oriental Corner, Plaza de Fiesta, Children’s World, Western Junction, European Village, Alpine Valley, and Mod Ville. The American Square was the park’s entrance. It was similar in design and function to Disneyland’s Main Street USA, with a variety of shops and eateries placed throughout the area. Oriental Corner featured a station for the park’s train, The 610 Limited, The Black Dragon, an octopus-style carnival ride, and a station for the AstroWay, AstroWorld’s own Skyway attraction. Plaza de Fiesta was home to the Lost World Adventure, a Jungle Cruise-style boat ride that took guests along a river and featured narrating skippers and animated figures. Children’s World, as the name implies, featured attractions for younger children. These included the Maypole, a teacups ride, a playground featuring an enormous boot slide, a petting zoo, and the Rubba-Dub, a simple boat ride themed after nursery rhymes. The Western Junction featured another train station for The 610 Limited, as well as the Crystal Palace Theatre, reserved mainly for western themed stage shows. The area also included a Wild West shooting gallery, a Chance Trabant carnival ride named Wagon Wheel, and the Millpond Bumper Boats. The European Village prominently featured the Astroneedle, originally named Skyrama. This 340-feet-tall double-decker Intamin gyro tower slowly lifted guests into the air, gently spinning in order to give them a view of the park and surrounding area. Due to its size and placement, this was considered to be the park’s centerpiece. Also located in the European section was the Le Taxi, a French car ride that allowed guests to drive around a track and through a tunnel. The Alpine Valley featured a carousel, the other station for the AstroWay, and AstroWorld’s most complex ride; the Alpine Sleigh ride. This thrilling dark ride took guests in sleighs in and around the mountain named “Der Hofheinzberg.” From the outside, guests could view the large structure with its snowy peaks and gushing waterfall. The ride itself utilized state-of-the-art technology. On the way up the mountain, guests would pass the Echo Tunnel, with a sign encouraging them to yodel into it. They would eventually reach a second tunnel hearing what they had shouted before. This was executed with a microphone in the first tunnel recording the sounds onto a specially developed tape. It was perfectly timed to play the recording in the second tunnel just as guests reached it. The next effect came after a steep drop into the mountain in a section nicknamed the Blasting Tunnel. Here, strobe lights would brightly flash, disorienting riders. They would then fly past the scene of a miner with explosives next to a boarded-up tunnel. Guests would dip and turn, eventually making their way past a film projection of an avalanche. After this, guests would come face-to-face with an abominable snowman, played by a park employee in a crude costume. While the entire ride was inspired by Disneyland’s Matterhorn bobsleds, the addition of the monster actually predated Disneyland’s animatronic by a decade. The next section guests would enter was the cold room, complete with falling ice and freezing temperatures. This effect was made possible by the air conditioning of Carrier, and the cold room was the attractions biggest draw, especially on the hottest days of the summer. After making their way through the room, guests would take a final steep drop, returning them to the loading station. The attraction was by far the most unique and heavily themed experience at AstroWorld. It would open three weeks after the park due to construction delays. The ride would unsurprisingly experience a variety of technical difficulties over time, causing the removal of many of the original effects, including the abominable snowman, which only lasted a few years due to poor guest-to-monster relations. Finally, the Mod Ville section of the park consisted of a variety of flat rides. These included a double-lift ferris wheel, the AstroWheel, a scrambler ride, The Happening, and another tracked auto ride named Spin-out. AstroWorld came with a high price tag, around $25 million, but it seemed that it was well worth the cost. Hofheinz and Duell’s attention to detail rivaled that of Disney, and the assortment of attractions built before the park’s debut was impressive to say the least. With AstroWorld completed, it was time to open the wonderful world of fun for its first season. ♪ Let your troubles slide away, ♪ ♪ let’s get happy for a day. ♪ ♪ AstroWorld is waiting for you, anytime you say, hey. ♪ ♪ Dancing in the moonlight, ♪ ♪ playing in the sunshine, ♪ ♪ We make people happy. ♪ ♪ AstroWorld. ♪ ♪ AstroWorld. Ha! ♪ AstroWorld opened its gates to the public on June 1, 1968. The park saw around 50,000 guests in its first weekend, receiving rave reviews for its theming, its attractions, and especially, its air conditioning. AstroWorld was another success for Hofheinz and the Astrodomain, and the planned expansions to the park went forward. The Oriental Corner would receive two new rides from Arrow Development; a log flume named the Bamboo Chute and a junior coaster named Serpent. The park would receive its first new themed land in 1970. Fun Island was located in the lagoon in the center of the park and would feature two attractions; a tilted house named the Wacky Shack and a roller coaster named the Swamp Buggy Ride. This was Chance Industry’s signature toboggan coaster. This style was usually portable, with the simple ride lifting guests vertically through the coaster’s center and then letting gravity spiral the cars downward. AstroWorld’s version was unique and that the coaster was designed to look like a giant tree. In 1972, another new land, Country Fair, opened. This expansion cost around $1.5 million as it included AstroWorld’s first big coaster; the Dexter Freebish Electric Roller Ride. This Arrow minecart reached a height of 80 feet and featured a 60-foot drop. A new carousel, a walkthrough museum of time period antiques, and a bumper car ride named the Dare Fender Bender also premiered in the area. AstroWorld’s official mascot, Marvel McFey, made his first appearance around this time. The character would soon get his own theatre with stage shows in children’s world. The park was filling out quite nicely, adding shops and restaurants, renovating rides, and switching out the smaller attractions every so often. The park had become part of Houston and the locals looked forward to its operating season each year. However, whether guests had asked for it or not, change was on its way. ♪ We’re in a world, but AstroWorld, ♪ ♪ and you’ll have so much fun! ♪ ♪ Flying high, ♪ ♪ on top of the rides, ♪ ♪ cooling off on the water slides. ♪ ♪ Thrills and chills both night and day, ♪ ♪ the memories will always stay. ♪ ♪ If on the loop, ♪ ♪ eat, and dance, and sing, ♪ you won’t believe what surprises will bring. ♪ ♪ We’re in a world, but AstroWorld, ♪ ♪ and you’ll have so much fun! ♪ And so close to home. The biggest change to AstroWorld in its early years came in 1975. Less than a decade after the park opened, Hofheinz, hindered by health and financial issues, decided to lease AstroWorld to Six Flags with an option to purchase, which the company would do before the 1976 season. Being their first acquired park, Six Flags was eager to make it their own. In 1976, the Coney Island area would open in AstroWorld. This would bring a new theater and a fan favorite coaster; the Texas Cyclone. Six Flags had considered relocating Coney Island’s Cyclone to Houston, but after factoring in the cost of transporting the existing ride decided to build a new attraction based off the classic coaster. Reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour and dropping guests 92 feet, the wooden coaster was one of the largest of its kind when it opened. The Texas Cyclone dazzled guests and critics, and it made the park a must for many thrill-seekers. The Texas Cyclone would soon be labeled the No. 1 coaster in the world. In 1978, the shuttle loop coaster, Greezed Lightnin’, opened in the Western Junction. This coaster, manufactured by Anton Schwarzkopf, featured one large loop that the train would travel through once forward after launch, and then again backwards. Two years later in 1980, AstroWorld would receive another major expansion; Thunder River, the world’s first river rapids ride, would open at the park. While a common ride type now, this was the first of its kind, and a huge kit for AstroWorld. In 1983, SkyScreamer, an Intamin drop tower, would debut in the Plaza de Fiesta section of the park. The tower was 143 feet tall, and dropped guests down onto a piece of curved track. This same year, The Alpine Sleigh ride would close due to high maintenance costs, leaving the mountain abandoned. The ambitious ride had a 15-year run at AstroWorld. 1983 would also see Waterworld, a separate waterpark, open next door. The park featured a standard array of slides and pools. A year later in 1984, AstroWorld received the Arrow suspended coaster, XLR-8, or Accelerate, which would be placed in the Plaza de Fiesta area. Its track would dangle guests directly over the Lost World Adventure, which had been renamed to the River of No Return. In its later years, the coaster would turn around some of its cars, allowing guests to choose between riding the coaster facing forward or backwards. This was also the time that Six Flags acquired the rights to the Looney Tunes characters from Warner Brothers, and Time Warner was becoming increasingly interested in the chain of theme parks. The Houston park was at the mercy of the Six Flags corporation, but so far, it had treated AstroWorld extremely well, constantly bringing new rides, attractions, and experiences. Six Flags was actively making the park better, and they had more improvements planned for the coming years. ♪ where your money goes along ♪ ♪ Long John Silver’s way! ♪ This fall, make your visit to AstroWorld go even further with super savings from Long John Silver’s. Now through November 29th, save $4.00 on your AstroWorld ticket with discount coupons from Long John Silver’s. ♪ where your money goes along ♪ ♪ Long John Silver’s way! ♪ In the mid-1980s, a dance club named Studio A would open in AstroWorld. Because it seems that no theme park was safe from the ’80s. A Houston MTV style dance show would be shot here named Video City. This is also the year that Halloween festivities would begin. In 1987, a new attraction called Looping Starship would debut. A year later, the water ride, Tidal Wave, replaced the River of No Return, which had been rethemed to the wetlands a few years prior. This marked an end to the attraction’s 20-year run. In 1989, a new steel coaster, Viper, opened in the Oriental Village. The coaster was 80 feet tall, had a small tunnel on the first drop, and featured one inversion. The next year, another new coaster, Ultra Twister, would open. This unique ride was a pipeline roller coaster and had previously operated at Six Flags Great Adventure before being moved to the Houston park. This was the only ride of its kind in the United States as the coaster had originated in Japan. In 1993, AstroWorld opened a major new attraction. The ride was named Batman: The Escape. This stand-up coaster had been a resident at two previous Six Flags parks before making its way to AstroWorld. Here, it would be themed to the DC Comics superhero. The main villain of the ride was The Penguin, who was pursuing guests throughout the queue and the ride. The queue featured areas themed to Arctic Park and Gotham City Cold Storage. The coaster itself had little theming apart from color and a short tunnel with strobe lights. The attraction was quite rough, jostling guests throughout their ride, but it was extremely popular despite this. Next to Batman: the Escape, Six Flags finally found a use for the abandoned mountain structure leftover from the Alpine Sleigh ride. This show building would become home to the Batcave. Guests on their way to Batman: the Escape could walk inside Bruce Wayne’s secret lair, and see some of his gadgets, the Batman suit, and even the Batmobile. The same year that Batman: the Escape opened, Time Warner would complete its takeover of the Six Flags corporation. Little change for the Six Flags parks under the new management, as they’ve been using Warner Brothers’ properties for years by then. The parks had nothing to worry about for the time being. However, this moment of peace would not last long. In 1995, in Indoor coaster, the Mayan Mindbender, would open in AstroWorld. This was a fairly tame ride, but the dark added an extra thrill to the experience and the extra theming was appreciated. A few years later in 1998, an even more detailed attraction, a drop tower named Dungeon Drop, would open. This ride was themed after a castle and it had an impressively themed queue. This year also saw the addition of Taz’s Texas Tornado, a Schwarzkopf traveling coaster with multiple loops. But this was all minor news compared to what was happening to Six Flags as a whole. Time Warner had been approached by a company named Premier Parks. The corporation, which had only begun operation in 1982, was purchasing as many regional amusement parks as corporately possible. After going public in 1996, they now had the funds necessary to purchase the Six Flags parks off of Time Warner’s hands. Time Warner, which had recently begun selling other aspects of their business, agreed. Premier took control of all the Six Flags parks, bringing the total number of amusement parks owned by the company to 31! Kieran Burke, the chairman and CEO of Premier Parks, celebrated that, “This is a transforming transaction for Premier, making us the world’s largest regional theme park company.” Premier began rebranding their existing parks with the Six Flags label, eventually dropping the name, Premier, altogether in favor of Six Flags Theme Parks Incorporated. AstroWorld continued operation as usual, hoping that the changes in the company would have only positive effects on the 30-year-old park. Years after the acquisition by Premier, Six Flags AstroWorld was virtually the same. The last major ride the park had received was 1999’s Serial Thriller, A Vecoma suspended coaster. Apart from a couple of new carnival rides and a few repainted attractions, AstroWorld was stagnant. The park had undergone a lot of change in the past 37 years. Many fan favorite attractions were removed such as Excalibur in 1998 and even the Astroneedle in 2000. Still, the majority of the parks signature attractions remained, including Dungeon Drop, Looping Starship, Tidal Wave, Thunder River, the AstroWay, Bamboo Shoot, The Antique Taxis, The 610 Limited, Mayan Mindbender, Greezed Lightnin’, Batman: The Escape, XLR-8, Viper, Serpent, and the Texas Cyclone. The park had entertained many guests in the nearly 40 years it had operated. While the park had been receiving less attention and experiencing more issues, it was still beloved by the citizens of Houston and the guests that visited. And none of them could have expected what was about to happen. [News reporter 1] Turn out the lights, the party’s over, 37 years of Houston history have come to a close. [News reporter 2] Six Flags AstroWorld shut down for good this evening. While they said it would happen about 6:00, it took longer because some fans just didn’t want to say goodbye. [News reporter 1] 11 News reporter Jeremy Desel was there tonight for the final ride. He joins us now to tell us about the end. Jeremy? [Jeremy Desel] Well, that’s right. It took about two extra hours to get folks out of the lines for those rides and out of the park. Certainly, AstroWorld over the years has been known for all of its thrills and its screams and on closing day, you can add tears to the list. On September 12, 2005, CEO Kieran Burke announced that AstroWorld would not reopen for the 2006 season. Many reasons were cited for its closure, including decreased quality of staff, increasingly rude guests, decreased attendance, and an unfortunate circumstance. Since AstroWorld was separated from the Astrodomain after Six Flags acquired it, the park had been leasing parking from the complex. Unfortunately, when the Houston Texans were created in 2002, a new stadium was built next to the existing Astrodome. This would not only be used for football games, but it would also host Houston’s biggest events, including the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This caused parking disputes between AstroWorld and the new stadium. All these issues led Six Flags to decide that it was time to close the park… …or maybe it was something else. Perhaps all of the aforementioned issues were not just a series of misfortunes Six Flags had to endure; It was quite the opposite really. While Six Flags was quick to point out all of the problems the park was facing, they did not mention that their company was in over $2 billion of debt. Premier had not stopped purchasing parks after obtaining Six Flags. The company continued its acquisitions, both in the US and abroad, at a rate that was unsustainable. The tipping point came in the early 2000s, with the company’s debt becoming so massive that shareholders began to take notice. In an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, Six Flags began selling off many of their international parks, and looked within the US to see which ones they could do without. AstroWorld, which had been long neglected, caught their attention, despite the issues being their own fault. Poor management could be attributed to no attention from corporate, weak attendance was because there was little to no investments made in the park for nearly a decade, and the rude behavior by guests could be due to the park decreasing their season pass price, turning the park into a cheap babysitting service for parents in the area. Also, there were many potential solutions to the parking dispute, but Six Flags, now possessed by a company with an itchy trigger finger and $2 billion of self-imposed debt, saw their window; Since AstroWorld was directly next door to Houston’s brand-new sports and events complex. The company believed that this was a perfect time to sell, as the property value for the surrounding area to the stadium was at its highest. They expected to receive $150 million for the land, and planned to send many of AstroWorld’s attractions to different parks, which would potentially increase revenue at those locations. AstroWorld would see its final guests on October 30, 2005, and demolition would begin the very next day. Some of the rides, such as Dungeon Drop, Tidal Wave, Serial Thriller, Batman: The Escape, Mayan Mindbender, and Greezed Lightnin’ were relocated. Others were not so lucky. Casualties included Thunder River, Bamboo Shoot, the AstroWay, XLR-8, Viper, Serpent, and even the Texas Cyclone. Many of the relocated rides never reopened, and remained in storage. Many of those that did resume operation have since closed. The demolition of AstroWorld cost around $20 million, and the land was sold to a local land development firm for only $77 million, nearly half of what Six Flags expected. This prompted the firing of Kieran Burke, and a new CEO was left to deal with the mess. The following years would be difficult for Six Flags, with many of the parks being closed or stripped of the company’s branding, but AstroWorld’s story was already over. As of 2018, the lot formerly occupied by the park is empty, and is rarely utilized apart from infrequent special events. It is used occasionally, and ironically, for additional parking for the stadium across the interstate. The neighboring Astrodome saw a similar fate, and now sits unused, leaving nearly the entire Astrodomain abandoned. AstroWorld is a rare instance of an entire park being demolished, and it is especially shocking given its size. Not only were numerous rides and attractions lost, but the world that they inhabited was lost as well. It is not ruined. It is not abandoned. It is just… gone. The loss of the park has left a hole in the hearts of many locals, especially as they celebrate what would have been its 50th birthday. While AstroWorld may have been physically destroyed, it lives on in the memories of those lucky enough to have visited, and those that yearn to go back to Houston’s wonderful world of fun. ♪ Let your troubles slide away, ♪ ♪ Let’s get happy for a day. ♪ ♪ AstroWorld is waiting for you, anytime you say, hey. ♪ ♪ Dancing in the moonlight, ♪ ♪ playing in the sunshine. ♪ ♪ We make people happy. ♪ ♪ AstroWorld. ♪ ♪ AstroWorld. ♪ Hello. No one is available to take your call. Please leave a message after the tone. (beep) Kevin. It’s time. It’s time to sell out… …again.