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ASTROWORLD

Hofheinz Family and AstroWorld Model.
The Hofheinz family ([from left] Roy Hofheinz and his children Dene Hofheinz Mann, Roy Hofheinz Jr., and Fred Hofheinz) show a model of AstroWorld in 1967. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

ASTROWORLD. Established in Houston in 1968, AstroWorld was created by multi-millionaire and former Houston mayor Roy Hofheinz. Hofheinz, the president of the Houston Sports Association, envisioned a blueprint for a “family-owned” amusement park filled with thrilling rides, great food, and lively laughter. Hofheinz purchased approximately 116 acres just south of the Astrodome and planned for fifty-seven acres of park construction designed by Randall Duell and Associates of Santa Monica, California. The firm had also designed Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. Hofheinz’s $25 million investment included the hauling of 600,000 cubic yards of dirt to raise the overall elevation and alleviate drainage concerns. Landscaping included the planting of at least 10,000 trees as well as other flowers and foliage. Crews built a pedestrian bridge over Loop 610 to connect the Astrodome to the new park. When Roy Hofheinz announced his grand plan on September 16, 1967, he expected that the attraction would bring in up to 1.6 million visitors each year. The name of AstroWorld was a nod to the Johnson Space Center and Houston’s growing role in the aeronautics and aerospace industry. The original 1960s landscape of AstroWorld incorporated a unique international theme. Featured rides included Astroway, a skyway ride from Switzerland that produced a bird’s-eye view of AstroWorld; the Alpine Sleigh Ride that took passengers past glaciers and waterfalls; a French taxi that encompassed the aura of Paris; and a train called 610 Limited which showcased historic 1870-era cars. The train carried guests around the entire park with a destination in Western Town.

Aerial view of AstroWorld.
Aerial view of AstroWorld with the Astrodome in the background, 1968. AstroWorld opened in June 1968 and delighted Houstonians and tourists for more than three decades. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

AstroWorld opened its gates to the public on June 1, 1968. Frank Davis, a reporter for the Houston Post, acknowledged Hofheinz’s anticipation when he noted, “The Astrowizard himself, Judge Roy Hofheinz, impatiently unlocked the gates 15 minutes ahead of schedule.” Parking at AstroWorld cost fifty cents, and the only public entrance to the theme park was through the Astrodome parking lot. Parking could hold up to 30,000 cars. Admission prices were $4.50 for adults and $3.50 for children, and tickets included access to all of the more than fifty rides in the park. Approximately 1,200 people staffed the park, including an estimated 1,000 college students. Hofheinz’s grandchildren kicked off the official opening by pressing a switch that released 2,000 balloons. The opening ceremony displayed music from the All-City Symphonic band members, who serenaded guests with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the end of the opening ceremony. More than 500 customers lined up to enjoy the 610 Limited within the first two hours. Hand-held maps were passed out to assist customers who wished to survey the location of various rides and food stations in the park. Live acts that ranged from Mexican brass bands to karate demonstrations accompanied the rides. Hofheinz had boasted that he would install the “most extensive outdoor air-conditioning system ever attempted,” and on opening day 2,000 tons of air-conditioning cooled shade areas. Attendance numbered approximately 23,400 the first day, with a tally of 50,000 visitors during the first weekend.

Postcard—Alpine Sleight Ride.
The Alpine Sleigh Ride, one of the original rides at AstroWorld treated passengers to cool glaciers and cascading waterfalls. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

AstroWorld’s national television debut aired on local ABC affiliate KTRK-TV (Ch. 13) on December 28, 1968. Comedian Soupy Sales was featured in the television unveiling with the Muppets and guest singer Leslie Gore. AstroWorld made its mark as the “wonderful world of fun.” By 1970 the successful theme park had several dynamic rides to add to its repertoire and expanded its profile with the opening of Fun Island. New attractions included Swamp Buggy, which traveled fifty-five feet up and down a swamp tree; the Magnetic House, an attraction with visual and gravitational distortions; and the Barrel of Fun, which held riders against a wall as the bottom dropped out of a spinning barrel. 

The Hofheinz family initially leased and then sold AstroWorld to Six Flags in 1975. That same year the Texas Cyclone was presented as a $2 million high-speed roller coaster; it opened in 1976. Greezed Lightning, a loop coaster, was introduced in 1978 as a ride with an outstanding force that could move from zero to sixty miles per hour in less than four seconds into an eighty-foot-high loop.

The next two decades rendered an era of new complex sites. By the early 1980s AstroWorld unveiled Thunder River, a refreshing water ride. The Skyscreamer, a free-fall ride, opened in 1982. WaterWorld, a fifteen-acre water park built on the east side of the property at Kirby and South Loop 610, opened in 1983. That same year Bally Manufacturing Corporation purchased Six Flags. The dimensions of AstroWorld were expanded in 1985 with the inclusion of a new outdoor stage facility called Southern Star Amphitheater. The amphitheater showcased various types of music that ranged from jazz to country concerts. Wesray Capital Corporation purchased Six Flags from Bally in 1987. In 1991 Time Warner became part owner of the Six Flags parks and eventually purchased full ownership in 1993. AstroWorld was advertised as Six Flags AstroWorld during the 1990s.

In 1992 the manager and president of AstroWorld, Bill Moore, began showcasing Batman themes. Soon after, Batman the Escape, a rollercoaster, debuted in 1993. Mayan Mind Bender, an indoor roller coaster, opened in 1995, and the Texas Tornado coaster opened in 1998. Ownership of the Six Flags brand, including AstroWorld, changed hands again in the later 1990s. Time Warner sold a majority interest to Boston Ventures in 1995. In 1998 Premier Parks became sole owner of the Six Flags Corporation.

Roy Hofheinz’s creation made for fun-filled memories for many Houstonians and tourists, and AstroWorld continued to entertain numerous generations of satisfied customers until the theme park closed in 2005. Six Flags sought to reduce its corporate debt and cited declining attendance and rising property values as reasons for closing. With the opening of the new Reliant Stadium for the Houston Texans football team, parking issues were also cited. AstroWorld closed on October 30, 2005—the end of its thirty-seventh season. Though estimates for the park’s real estate value were as high as $150 million, the land was ultimately sold for only $77 million. During the ensuing months, the entire park was dismantled, demolished, and cleared. Only a few coasters were reassembled and put in operation in other parks. The Texas Cyclone, for example, was demolished onsite. Projected commercial development did not occur, and as late as 2017 the site of AstroWorld was an empty field that was used for overflow parking during the Houston rodeo. The pedestrian bridge over Loop 610 stood as the last remnant of the park.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Houston Chronicle, January 8, 1967; September 17, 1967; December 3, 1968. Houston Post, September 16, 17, 1967; June 1, 2, 1968; October 16, 1975; December 9, 1977; November 5, 1982; March 15, 1987; December 18, 1992. Jef Rouner, “Watch This AstroWorld Documentary on YouTube Immediately,” Houston Press, March 28, 2017 (http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/check-out-this-astroworld-documentary-on-youtube-9305620), accessed July 15, 2017. Texas and Local History Collection Archives, Houston Metropolitan Research Center. Vertical Files, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. 

Delicia Daniels

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Handbook of Texas Online, Delicia Daniels, "Astroworld," accessed December 13, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lsa01.

Uploaded on July 18, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.