August 12, 2009

Um, Anyone Lose An Amusement Park?

In 1968, Roy Hofheinz built a 75 acre theme park in Houston, Texas. Called AstroWorld, Hofeinz located it just across the street from his previous accomplishment, the Astrodome. This was not a second-rate theme park. In the south, I'll go so far as to say that it was second only to Disney World, though it actually predated Disney World by three years.

I have no real recollection of the number of times I visited AstroWorld. It was an end-of-school-year staple and a summer hot-spot. At the time, it was a place where parents could turn their kids loose for the day, telling them to meet at the base of Greezed Lightnin' or the Texas Cyclone at the end of the day. Everyone would be exhausted.

Now, I love maps, especially Google Maps. I can look at far off places and old haunts. So the other day, I was looking at my old home town, poking around the Astrodome. I moved south, a bit, and my heart literally sank. This is what I should have seen:

aworld.before.jpg

And this is what I saw:

aworld.after.jpg

You see how I might have been a little thrown, right? Uh, guys, you seem to have misplaced an amusement park. Sadly, no, it's not merely lost. It's gone. Forever. Four years ago, the mighty AstroWorld closed its gates for the very last time. It's coasters were dismantled and sent to other parks around the country (even the world) if not destroyed completely. Hofheinz' 75 acres now sit vacant.

I'm no more or less attached to stuff - to things, possessions - than the next guy. And I know that profit dictates things such as these - Hofheinz's sale of AstroWorld to Six Flags and Six Flags' eventual closure of the park (and now Six Flags' bankruptcy which serves those bastards right for shutting down AstroWorld). But I'm a little bitter when the landmarks of my childhood fall victim. I mean, you can never go home again, that much is true. But it's a real bitch when the parts of home are rendered missing.

What were your favorite haunts growing up? And are they still around?

Posted by Chris at August 12, 2009 6:32 AM
Comments

My high school burned to the ground years ago and there's a freeway running through where our first home once stood.

Everything changes.

Posted by: Ann Adams at August 12, 2009 6:40 AM

Most of my favorite haunts are still around in one form or another.

The Limelight, a club in an old church in the Photo District of Manhattan, is still around as a club but it is no longer the Limelight (e.g., set up, layout is different).

The one I'm most heartbroken about is Conely Island. Most of it has disappeared because they have plans to develop on it. See http://www.coneyisland.com/.

Posted by: MariaV at August 12, 2009 7:45 AM

We lost Astroworld several years ago....they claim the land is more valuable than what the park took in. Its sad though. Look how big a city Houston is and we don't have a theme park or even a great water park (Splashtown is like a mud puddle compared to REAL waterparks).

They tore down my high school about 6 years ago. That's weird. All these memories I have and to know that building isn't even there anymore. And, to drive by? Very strange to see that corner empty and some "new" building in another spot that has no personality at all.

Posted by: Debbie at August 12, 2009 7:50 AM

Ya, you can thank Dan Snyder of Redskin fame for closing it down. He bought 6 Flags and proceeded to make a ton of changes. I live in the town that has the original 6 flags. He screwed a lot of stuff up. They sell beer now. Mmmmm, ya, drunk rednecks really need to be riding roller coasters.

Posted by: Knot at August 12, 2009 7:57 AM

I don't really have anything big because I didn't really have any haunts. I was a loner and spent a lot of time hanging out in the woods behind my house pretending to be a pioneer or a dragon rider and so on. I do remember being so angry when they came through and surveyed some of "my" woods for new houses that I ripped up the stakes they had put in place. That would be my only experience to compare.

We do have a former 6 Flags park nearby where I live now that is (so far) thriving as an independent park.

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 12, 2009 8:13 AM

I don't remember Astroworld as much as I remember the road sign directing drivers to it. It was essentially "Astroworld" with an upward pointing arrow below it. I'm sure now it meant "Astroworld straight ahead" but as five year old my brother and I interpreted it as an order to stand up in the car. Astroworld! Up!

Posted by: TheQueen at August 12, 2009 8:47 AM

I lived at Astroworld when I was a kid. It was, like, the funnest summer place in the entire universe.

My parents took us to Disneyland one summer and we all wandered around thinking, "Um, it's OK, I guess, but it's no Astroworld ..." (It didn't have nearly as many scary rides.)

That empty map makes me awfully sad. Both my parents and my brother are gone. One of my Astroworld buddies, Malu, died of uterine cancer five years ago. I haven't seen my other friend, Deni, in almost a decade.

Where the hell did all the years go?

Posted by: Elise at August 12, 2009 9:56 AM

I'm a Houstonian and I used to spend my summers at Astroworld (and Waterworld, seeing as how it's 125 outside and I prefer water to rollercoasters, but alas). I must have missed the memo that it was closing, so imagine my surprise when I went to a business conference at Reliant Stadium and looked across the street to see an EMPTY FIELD. It was traumatizing. Even just thinking back, I can feel that little part inside of me die all over again.

Posted by: Megan at August 12, 2009 10:19 AM

The Pavilion amusement park in Myrtle Beach, SC. It was around from 1948-2006 (I have a t-shirt!) and now it is no more. And since then, NOTHING that goes up on or near the property has been able to survive. I think that's justice.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 12, 2009 10:23 AM

Growing up an Air Force brat, I moved so often that I quickly learned to not get emotionally attached to anything related to location, as location would change.

So I missed out on the whole concept of "home." There was never a home for me to go back to. At the time my first child was born, the longest I had ever lived at one address was the 3 years in the frat house in college. My kids have spent most of their lives in the DC area, so they are getting that stability i never had.

OTOH, I graduated high school on a south pacific island and spent 5 years living in Europe, so it wasn't all bad.

Posted by: COD at August 12, 2009 10:31 AM

Astroworld and Crystal Beach were both staples to my childhood. I feel your pain, man.

Posted by: alektra at August 12, 2009 10:43 AM

a few months ago, my husband and i drove out to an old dock on the lake that my parents live on that my friends and i used to go to when we were in middle school. i have great memories of that part of the lake. the dock is still there, but it has no trespassing signs all over it and it is completely dilapidated. seeing that left me with a really weird feeling. i mean, obviously, after 20 years i should expect it to have changed, but...

Posted by: kati at August 12, 2009 10:52 AM

Astroworld, Peppermint Park and Kiddie Wonderland. All gone.

The Astroworld land was supposed to be redeveloped, but turned into a political nightmare. And seeing how real estate development is now at a standstill, it's just a sad field off 610 these days. It's definitely weird not seeing the rollercoasters.

Posted by: Pammer at August 12, 2009 10:58 AM

My favorite local haunts here around Richmond aren't gone, for the most part....they are just no longer safe or enjoyable to visit. I think that hurts worse than if they were truly no longer around.

Posted by: Rebecca at August 12, 2009 11:11 AM

Six Flags seems to have done this to a lot of folks; up here in Ohio we had the perfect combo of Sea World on one side of a lake, and Geauga Lake Park on the other. Six Flags rolled in, shut down Sea World ( which you never really knew how special it was until it was gone ), and then proceeded to turn what was a great park into some sort of harlequin nightmare of it's former self. They put in a bunch of plastic crappy fixtures, a couple of lame theme rides, and jacked the prices over 100% in a season. Ohio, not exactly the spare change mecca of the country, responded by simply making the pilgrimage to the last of the great OH parks: Cedar Point and King's Island. The cost was finally about the same, and the overall experience was better ( Geauga Lake was always the day trip on a budget; Cedar Point and King's Island was the full on vacation trip if you lived in NE Ohio ).

Now the park is disassembled, with skeletal remains of coasters poking through here and there. It was my first "date" park, and it was where I fell in love with steel double loop coasters.

Hopefully the demise of Six Flags is a just dessert, and the day of the independently owned amusement park will rise again. I think maybe we took them for granted, and the economics of them eventually killed them off. I'd be happy now for a local park with just a boardwalk and a few carney rides, as long as it had one really great coaster!

Posted by: metawizard at August 12, 2009 11:15 AM

It's going to be a sad, sad day for me when Six Flag's Magic Mountain down in LA disappears... that was my favorite amusement park in the whole world and I'd personally rather see Disneyland shut down heh.

Posted by: Katie at August 12, 2009 11:24 AM

Is it really just pathetic to say... I don't know? I lived in the Bay Area when I was a kid. Moved from California to Michigan when I was a teenager. I haven't been back to CA in about 15 years. I imagine a ton has changed in that time...I keep trying to get it together to get out there again, but I imagine it's all changed by now. (Plus, my family didn't do vacations or anything like that... so... I'm not sure how much I'd miss. Maybe I'd notice a grocery store was gone?).

Posted by: Sarah at August 12, 2009 11:56 AM

My old haunt was Indiana beach, and yes it is still there and so far it seems to be doing good. Here's a link to the google view of it. http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=indiana+beach&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=30.048013,56.513672&ie=UTF8&ll=40.788827,-86.76973&spn=0.003501,0.006899&t=h&z=17

Posted by: Jeff A at August 12, 2009 12:10 PM

I had a season pass to AstroWorld two summers. I loved Greased Lightning - a roller coaster that went upside down...and then backwards? Genius! It's tame by today's standards, but in the late 70s/early 80s, it was magic.

One of my fondest memories - high school graduation time and all valedictorians in the city got to come to AW for one day, with run of the park. Not all rides were open, but many were, and it was great.

I was sad to hear of the close-down, and sadder to see your aerial photos of what once was (including WaterWorld, which was added later) and what now is.

The other thing I remember from a younger age in Houston was called Peppermint Park. Bumper cars and the like. Pre-Chuck E. Cheese heaven for that age group. Good times.

Posted by: Teresa at August 12, 2009 12:16 PM

Yup, mine's still alive and kickin' -- the original Six Flags over Texas in Dallas (okay, actually Arlington) :)

From what I heard, Astro World was getting pretty ragged prior to its closure ... sad, really.

Posted by: Christina at August 12, 2009 12:34 PM

I hear ya. They tore down my elementary/middle school and rebuilt this building that, to me, looks like a jail. It's close to my mom and dad's house, so it gets the opportunity to break my heart every time I visit.

About a block away from my parents house is an ice cream parlor that I'd go to all the time. That's still there. But it's been through so many owners, remodeled, blah blah blah that it's not the same.

Posted by: caleal at August 12, 2009 1:03 PM

They have torn down and rebuilt my old middle school and high school. Added on to the elementary school. Closed out water park.

Also, most old building has been imploded. The new Vegas bites. Big Time.

Posted by: debb at August 12, 2009 1:40 PM

we are from that area too. our stomachs hurt the first time we drove by and saw that.

Posted by: struglas at August 12, 2009 2:05 PM

we are from that area too. our stomachs hurt the first time we drove by and saw that.

Posted by: struglas at August 12, 2009 2:05 PM

There was Benson's Wild Animal Farm, and I loved it there. I actually managed to take my kids when they were small before they closed it forever. Sad.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 12, 2009 2:50 PM

I just read an article that says they are tearing down the "Turnpike" at Kennywood to build a new rollercoaster. It's not the same thing, but I have great memories of riding that ride with my Dad, Pappy, and many cousins when I was growing up. It's sad to see it go, but it isn't exactly a "thrill ride".

Posted by: Krush at August 12, 2009 4:02 PM

Are you sure that it's not just Dick Cheney's favorite amusement park?

Posted by: Hope at August 12, 2009 4:41 PM

This reminded me of the scene in Grosse Pointe Blank where John Cusack goes to where his boyhood house was and finds a convenience store in its place. His look of utter WTF? is going on here is priceless.

My boyhood park was Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I'd go back to visit now but I live like 3500 miles from there and we have the Santa Cruz Boardwalk here. I love that my kids will have memories from going there as they grow up.

Posted by: Erik at August 12, 2009 6:45 PM

OMG!! I can't believe this. Growing up in DFW, I used to go to Six Flags (Arlington) during the summer. But Astroworld was a place I'll never forget. My dad and I went on vacation there and I was so stupid to ride the Cyclone. I hated roller coasters after that! haha. So to see this gone, for some reason makes me sad. Oh well....

Posted by: Mag Mom at August 12, 2009 11:19 PM

My favorite old haunts would be:
Lake Compounce in nearby Bristol CT (home of ESPN). My family would pack a picnic lunch and head out on my father's Wednesday afternoon off. Have our lunch at the picnic tables outside the park on the edge of the woods where we would climb up humongous boulders. There's a lake and first we'd swim and then get changed and go on all the rides. They have/had an awesome Arcade with Skeeball, and a Fortune teller, and pinball machines.
My other haunt was Community Pool which is our town pool. We had our Red Cross swimming lessons there every year, we'd spend entire days in and out of the water, and in the playground area. There's concrete "beach" on both sides and the pool gradually slopes gets deeper and then shallow again on the other side. I drive by it almost every day and it is still packed all the time.

Posted by: NancyJ at August 13, 2009 6:06 AM

wow. crazy! although... i had never heard of that park before. that's weird.

Posted by: la petite belle at August 13, 2009 7:52 AM

hey cactus, just got back from 12 days in tx!! my folks live in arlington. six fags, as we called it in high school, is still standing. have you mapped the new dallas cowboy stadium? holy axle rose it's HUGE!!!!!!
:) maria

Posted by: Maria at August 13, 2009 10:17 AM

I was going to take the kids there when I graduated from AIT in San Antonio. I figured we'd hit there on the way home.

I went online to look at ticket prices and that's when I discovered the place I'd spent much of my childhood at was gone.

We went to Oktoberfest every single year, not to mention the summer trips and the random weekend visits when I got older and went with friends.

/mourns the loss of Texas Cyclone, Greased Lightening and a whole lot of memories.

Posted by: Holly Reynolds at August 13, 2009 12:24 PM

OMG! They shut down AstroWorld? I had no idea. As a former Houstonian all I can say is that just sucks.

Posted by: Heather at August 13, 2009 5:14 PM

Kiddieland in Melrose Park, Illinois. When I grew up in River Forest IL. Kiddieland was the place we always wanted to go. They had a miniture train, horse rides, a rollercoaster and various other rides. I found out that after something like 80 years in business, they closed this month. Very depressing.

Posted by: Peggy at August 14, 2009 1:43 PM

Oh Yeah,
my high school is now store fronts and condos. The football field is a public park that is named for our school mascot. When you eat at Amichi's pizza place, you are sitting about where the principal's office was.

Posted by: Peggy at August 14, 2009 1:51 PM

I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS. I too grew up going to AstroWorld. Bummer. I'm surprised I never heard about its closing though, with friends still in the area and me being only a few cities away now.

Posted by: Amy at August 22, 2009 9:42 PM

Sad to see what a paradise Astroworld was,but now its just a paradise to nowhere.

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