Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Vintage Postcards - Astroworld

It's a new year, and I have a new batch of vintage amusement park postcards, courtesy of Ken Martinez. This is part SIXTEEN, if you can believe it! Here's Ken:

AstroWorld - Houston, Texas

AstroWorld was opened on June 1, 1968 by Judge Roy Hofheinz, former county judge, Houston mayor and Houston Astro's team owner as part of his Astrodomain, which also included the Houston Astrodome next door. It was located directly across the highway from the Astrodome with access via bridge. It started with eight theme areas: Alpine Valley, Americana Square, Children's World, European Village, Modville, Plaza de Fiesta, Oriental Corner, and Western Junction. These are postcards from the park's early years before Six Flags took over operation.

This was AstroWorld's equivalent to Main Street, U.S.A. but was referred to as Americana Square in most publications. It even had an emporium store. It was at the first theme section guests encountered as they entered the park. AstroWorld was designed by Randall Duell and Associates, the same firm that designed the first three Six Flags parks, Magic Mountain, Worlds of Fun and both Great America parks.

The Alpine Sleigh ride reminds me a lot of the Matterhorn at Disneyland. The dark ride carried riders in and out of the mountain through various scenes including one with an operating snow machine.

Here's the May Pole ride. I think it's the same flat ride as the Frosty's Snow Ball Ride that existed in the old Santa's Villages in Scotts Valley, California and Dundee, Illinois. Also visible are the Astroneedle, an Intamin tower, and the Astroway, a Von Roll sky ride which had terminals in the Oriental Corner and Alpine Valley sections of the park.

This is probably my favorite postcard I have of AstroWorld. Pictured is the "Swamp Buggy Ride" which is a themed Chance Toboggan ride dressed up as a tree trunk. Very unusual! Fun Island was a Robinson Crusoe themed area where the Swamp Buggy Ride and Wacky Shack were located.

The Bamboo Shoot, an Asian themed Arrow flume ride located in the Oriental Corner section opened during the park's second season. Note the ride spotter at the top of the drop and the 610 limited train in the backdrop. The 610 Limited was the train that traveled around the perimeter of the park.

AstroWorld seemed to have trouble managing the park's high standards in its early years, so eventually Six Flags took over operation and added the "Texas Cyclone" wooden roller coaster (rated #1 by Rover Cartmell), which drove up attendance. As years passed, the park seemed to be treated like a step-child by the modern Six Flags chain without having any of the great headliner state-of-the-art attractions added to its roster like the other parks in the Six Flags chain benefited from. It usually was given the older used rides and leftovers from the other Six Flags parks. It was finally closed and demolished in 2005 after Six Flags was offloading several of its parks it acquired during expansion. If anyone remembers, Six Flags was going to sell off Magic Mountain during this time period as well, but finally decided to keep it operating and in the Six Flags family chain of parks. I hope you enjoyed your visit to this lost but not forgotten theme park of the 1960's.

Information source material:
The Great American Amusement Parks, copyright 1976 by Gary Kyriazi
Funland U.S.A. copyright 1978 by Tim Onosko

I love these early views of AstroWorld! Like so many other parks, I wish I could have seen this one before Six Flags took over. It looks like the original design had a lot of charm, and like guests could have had a lot of fun there!

Thanks as always to Ken Martinez for sharing his collection and for all of his research! We'll have more from him very soon.


Nanook said...


More great memories. I believe my first visit to Astroworld was back in 1978. Happily the Texas Cyclone Roller Coaster was operational by then. At the time, any single riders would have to be "accompanied" by a park, ride operator to share the seat - as the jerkiness of the ride was considered to be too extreme for merely a single rider to endure. Well - whatever - it was just an intense, fun ride.

Thanks, Ken for sharing these images.

TokyoMagic! said...

That Alpine Sleigh ride has always fascinated me when I've seen photos of it. There is even a postcard out there of riders encountering an abominable snowman-type of creature (which appears to be a person in a costume). I would have loved to have been able to experience a post 1959 "Matterhorn rip-off" with an abominable snowman prior to Disney adding one to their Matterhorn in 1978. That must be where Disney got the idea to do that. Not everything that Disney does is original!

Chuck said...

Thanks, ken, for another wonderful post!

TokyoMagic!, you make an interesting point. While we often draw obvious parallels back to Disneyland or WDW when we look at other amusement parks, there is some influence in the other direction as well. I'd never noticed that cross-pollination until I came back to DL in '93 after a 17-year hiatus.

For example, the log cabin structures and petting zoo of Big Thunder Trail (1983) and Big Thunder Ranch (1986) as originally built had clear echoes of Frontier Trail (1971) at Cedar Point, which connects Frontier Town and the Funway. Splash Mountain (1989) obviously takes many of its cues from Knott's Berry Farm's Calico Log Ride (1969), but also bears some resemblances to Knott's Bear-y Tales (1975).

The Edwards Air Force Base areas at Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Great Adventure (1994) were obvious inspirations for the former Condor Flats (2001) area of DCA, complete with airfield theming and a silver-painted F-104 on static display. I've often wondered if the Imagineers designed a fictitious test base rather than using the real Edwards because Six Flags had already done so. Soarin' Over California is a big step up from the Six Flags Right Stuff Mach 1 Adventure (designed by Iwerks Entertainment, another oblique Disney connection) but is derived from the same basic idea - motion simulation and a big screen to simulate a flying experience.

I guess it's inevitable - while much of the amusement park industry is driven by Disney innovation, not every great attraction idea originates on Flower Street. Others take the inspiration and build on it, and Disney borrows it back. And, of course, designers move back and forth between companies, and they take the ideas in their heads with them. And I think that's all for the better.

Now, if only the merchandisers who moved into Disney park management had been able to check THEIR ideas at the door...

Nancy said...

I love these!! The logo is so cool. I believe these are my favorites so far from your collection, of which I am properly envious.

I believe the third card is my fave; love the sky ride and the Astroneedle. Give me a bird's eye view of the park every time!

Thanks again for sharing with us! :-)

PS: Nanook, cool pic! :-)

Pegleg Pete said...

Great postcards today, Major - thanks, Ken! My family visited Astroworld in August 1972 when I was around five years old and it left a big impression on me. The postcard with the Swamp Buggy Ride in particular has cleared up a mystery of mine. I have a strong memory of my aunt and my parents going on the ride, however, as I've never seen the ride on any of the park's maps (the ride apparently closed in '73, but for some reason the '72 poster map doesn't show it) I've come to believe it was a product of my overactive five year old imagination. But here it is - albeit it not in the location in the park that I had remembered. I also recall quite liking the Alpine Sleighs but I have very little actual memory of it. Thanks again!

Mark H. Besotted said...

I can believe it. Everyone knows you can always trust The Major!

I had to go look up that Chance Toboggan ride, and I definitely wanna ride one now. So I have to decide, should I visit Wisconsin or Pennsylvania? (Leaning toward Wisconsin, since there's a monorail.)

Tom said...

Great pictures and descriptions! Always makes me sad to see another piece of joy gone by the wayside. To further steep in the sense of loss I had to check the satellite photos of the area. In January 2006 it was still standing pretty much intact. In April 2006, razed down to bare dirt. Amazing how quickly and completely something like this can be erased.

K. Martinez said...

Nanook, I figured you’d enjoy these. Unfortunately I have no postcards of AstroWorld’s “Texas Cyclone”, formerly listed as #1 coaster in the U.S. by Robert Cartmell if I remember correctly. By the time I got to ride it, it was already tamed down.

TokyoMagic!, there’s no doubt that “Der Hofheinzberg” mountain was inspired by Disneyland’s Matterhorn. But then Disneyland’s Matterhorn was inspired by the old scenic railways of Coney Island and other amusement parks of the early 20th century.

Chuck, your energy for writing and research are amazing. The more I got into amusement parks, the more I discovered that Disneyland wasn’t 100% original. Disney didn’t invent animation, but they brought it to its peak, same with the amusement park. I think that’s really why they stand above the rest in the industry.

Nancy, glad you like these. I used to have a lot more of these cards, but sold them over time

Pegleg Pete, glad my post gave you confirmation of your memory of the Swamp Buggy Ride. I still have memories which I can’t figure if they were real or imagined.

Mark H. Besotted, best place to look up roller coasters of any sort worldwide is on the Rollercoaster Database. Here’s a link to a complete listing of the Chance Toboggans that were installed in parks around the world.

Tom, I remember doing the same thing and discovering it was already completely scraped clean. It’s strange that AstroWorld and Opryland, U.S.A. from the early theme park era are part of the past now.

Monkey Cage Kurt said...

Thank you Ken, Your collection is amazing!

Brian said...

New Jersey's"Great Adventure"was also an independently owned park that was bought out by Six Flags.Same as this park you mention,the original owners kept their standards high.They wouldn't open the merry go round til all the brass was polished and the food was top notch.The differences were almost immediately clear the year Six Flags took over,there was a certain sleaziness that had crept in.Nonetheless,the park remains wildly popular to this day,although I haven't been there since 1992.I live near New Jersey shore points like Ocean City and Wildwood and I just take my family there.No complaints.

Anonymous said...

Great and accurate information on each of the postcards. However, I do seem to recall that the Astroneedle was built by someone other than Intamin. It may have been a Von Roll construct but was nearly fifty years ago now and only positive that it was not Intamin. Thanks