Do you know what the Texas Cyclone is? Do you know who Travis Scott is? If you’re over 40, you can probably answer question #1. And if you’re under 40, you can probably answer #2.
What do both of them - and generations of Houstonians - have in common?
We all love AstroWorld!
On June 1, 1968, AstroWorld’s 109 acres of theme park opened across from the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Astrodome. For nearly four decades, AstroWorld’s rides, entertainment and concerts created lifetime memories for Texas families. The park closed on Oct. 30, 2005 and was quickly torn down.
Houston native and rapper, Travis Scott, recently released his highly anticipated album titled Astroworld, a nod to the beloved icon of our hometown. This weekend, Travis’s Astroworld Fest is on a mission to be as memorable as the amusement park that used to stand across the street from the festival location. The album has brought back lots of AstroWorld memories for those of us that were lucky enough to experience the original from 1968-2005.
Here, Buzz residents share their memories of the park. Please remember to stay seated and keep your hands inside the car at all times during the ride!
Denise White Jones, Bellaire High School Class of 1968, was thrilled to be an employee the first official day AstroWorld was open. She sold “exotic” items in the Chinese Hat Shop and every shift headed to the big locker room to change in and out of her red Chinese uniform (uniforms had to stay at the park). Denise remembers, “All the local kids were excited to have a new attraction close to home. It became a big summer hang out place.”
Fast forward to the ’90s, when Denise and her husband would take their daughters to AstroWorld at Christmas because it turned into a winter wonderland with decorations and shows. There were also summer concerts and the best 4th of July fireworks. “We always snacked and sat on the hood of the car in the field next to AstroWorld watching the sky light up.”
In the summer of ’89, after her junior year, Helen Swiff-Goodman got her dream job working at the beloved theme park. “It was a far drive from my home in Clear Lake. I never went to summer camp; the comradery of the staff and people from all over Houston was a new experience for me.”
“‘You are now rotating 200 feet above the streets of AstroWorld... if you look to the right you will see the Texas Cyclone... the world’s fastest and largest wooden rollercoaster.’”
“I used to say this in my sleep. I worked the Space Needle. I gave that speech so many times a shift. I also worked at the Wagon Wheel. We would switch between the two rides to prevent boredom. In the fall I was assigned to the Texas Skyscreamer (the freefall) and the Gunslinger. An extra bonus for Skyscreamer was that you would find treasure under the ride that fell out of people’s pockets.... like tips.”
Juana Mena Nair, Bellaire High School Class of ’94, manned the shops in the back of the park by the Southern Star Amphitheater. She heard great concerts like New Kids on the Block and New Order. AstroWorld had a dance club on the property called "Studio A." The club was also the location for a local television Music Video & Dance Show called "Videocity" which aired on ABC-KPRC Channel 2 and was hosted by local DJ Bob King of 93Q KKBQ.
Juana laughed, recalling, “Hanging out at AstroWorld was a teenager’s dream. A favorite employee perk was arriving before the park opened for the daily roller coaster safety test runs and riding over and over without waiting in line.”
Julie Imrek Kuenstle was an AstroWorld employee later in life. “Growing up in Houston, it was a big treat to get to go to Astroworld. I didn’t have a season pass, which at the time cost about $20, which seemed like hundreds of dollars. I only went a few times with my youth group. Favorite memories include the bumper cars, the Barrel of Fun and Mrs. Baird’s bread, Wacky Shack and the Runaway Rickshaw”.
In the mid-90s, Julie worked as a Communications Manager. Job highlights included riding roller coasters with the media at 5 a.m., coordinating Wheel of Fortune tapings, introducing new rides, hosting children’s charities events and promoting concerts with artists such as Leanne Rimes, Ringo Starr (he requested only green M&Ms), Kirk Franklin, Moody Blues and Mark Chestnut.
Julie dished this encounter with some other famous Houstonians that are fans of AstroWorld. “Destiny’s Child, who was just about to break out, did a photo shoot for Ebony magazine in the Coney Island area by the Texas Cyclone. Very professional and super sweet ladies. As they were leaving, I poked my head in their limousine and to tell them how professional they were and what a great experience it was to work with them. I also remarked they were going to be huge. The group’s public relations agent nudged Beyonce (who was around 17-years-old) and exclaimed, ‘See? I told you so!’”
Rod Coronado started working on rides at AstroWorld in 1994 while he was still a student at Elsick High School. In 2005 he was still there working as Manager of Security when the park closed. “Some favorite times include dressing up as Foghorn Leghorn, Halloween FrightNights, listening to Los Kumbia Kings, seeing Selena in concert in 1995 and escorting Beyonce and Jay-Z around the park in 2004.” Rod remains in touch with many of his AstroWorld coworkers and has a great collection of AstroWorld memorabilia and photographs.
Leroy McCarley grew up in Southwest Houston and mowed about eight yards to buy his season passes, which he thinks were about $20. “In eighth grade I went so many times that I got my cost down to 40 cents per visit! Some of my favorite rides and places to go at AstroWorld were the Boogie Fog Disco where many teenagers learned to do the hustle its light up dance floor), the Dexter Freebish roller metal coaster and, last but not least, the Alpine Sleigh Ride where you got a shot of cold air right at the end, and with it a very short duration of a dark spot to kiss a girl during the ride! I also saw KC and the Sunshine Band.”
Leroy’s sons are now in college. He thinks AstroWorld not being open during their teenage years was a missed opportunity for them to have a safe place with plenty to do at a reasonable price. (Then again, maybe it was safer they weren’t hanging out in the Alpine Sleigh Ride like their dad!)
Meredith Jaynes Vela, a 1985 St. John’s School graduate, likes to call the “middle school babysitter of the ’70s and ’80s!” Reminiscing took her back to the wooden clanking of the Texas Cyclone and the whoosh of the wind as the riders’ stomachs rose in their throats before plummeting to the ground.
“I remember sitting with my sisters on the Cyclone behind our stepmother, D' Janes, who was always game for a good time. Anticipating the big drop, we clenched the rail in front of us as we flew down the first hill. Suddenly something took flight in front of us and, to our surprise, it was on D's head! We soon realized it was the wig she had been wearing. The hairpiece had popped off and was flapping in the wind! Our fear dissipated, and my sisters and I laughed hysterically until our sides hurt as D' tried in vain to bat the wig back down. Needless to say, there were no cell phone cameras back then, but this would have been a great ad for bobby pins since the wig hung on by only two of the little things. It’s been 30 years and we still tease D' about this!”
Now in his forties, John Shelby, was an Astroworld regular during middle school years. “I earned money to buy my season passes, which were about $35. It took three to four visits to break even.
“My mom or aunt would drop us off and the other would pick up. The park was open from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and was cheap babysitting. One time my friends and I went on a weekday and the park was so empty we were able to ride our favorite ride Greezed Lightnin’ 30 times (the park's steel shuttle-looper roller coaster capable of accelerating riders from zero to 60 mph in four seconds). It was funny because even though no one else was in line they made us get off. We would run back around to the front of the line and get right back on. Another time we rode the Texas Cyclone over 20 times in a row. On the Dexter Freebish roller coaster, we liked how the back car came off the track over the big hill. Concerts we saw included Joan Jet, Cheap Trick and Men at Work.”
John confessed, “Sometimes we would put pennies on the railroad track when a train was coming. It would flatten out similar to a quarter and often times worked in video games. (Not sure of the statute of limitations, I am sure that is theft).”
Josie Elwood Brown, a 1991 Bellaire High School graduate, proudly declared that the first concert she ever saw was at AstroWorld where she got really “wild” with Christian singer, Amy Grant. “That is the only concert my parents would let me go see!”
Lindsay Longshore Hawkins, who is 29 (three years older than Travis Scott), said: “I remember the blue Greezed Lightnin’ roller coaster that someone (probably my little brother, Tyler) forced me onto. I HATE ROLLERCOASTERS. Always have and always will. Besides Greezed Lightnin’ I have nothing but positive memories of AstroWorld and was super bummed when they shut it down.”
She continued, “I also love Travis Scott and the fact that he named his album Astroworld. I love hearing references to Houston in his music. It makes me proud. I love this city! I think all Houstonians, rap fans or not, appreciates a musician from our city, making it big, and positively referring to our city in their music.”
Lindsay shared some fun fan facts about Travis: “He loved AstroWorld – that’s where he would go for fun. When they closed it in 2005, that’s when he started making music. He has had this Astroworld album name planned for a couple years.”
Gabbi Vela, relative of the wig roller coaster rider above, is six years younger than Travis Scott and also loves the name for the AstroWorld album. “I feel like he’s paying tribute to Houston and it makes me proud to be from here. I think AstroWorld is this one unifying thing for a lot of people in Houston because so many people hear that name and go back to the amazing times they had there. I think it’s cool my parents got to go to AstroWorld. I’m a little jealous because they took me but I don’t have any memory of it. They have all of these amazing stories about going when they were younger.”
On April 5, 2018, Sloan Goodman, Bellaire High School Class of 2024, was very excited because it was her 12th birthday and she was dancing at the halftime show of the Houston Rockets game with her Vdanse girls hip hop group. Then she was ecstatic when she discovered that Travis Scott was at the game. “He was sitting right in front of me on the front rows and we were even dancing to one of his songs. I’m a big fan. My brother, Grant, even surprised me with some Travis Scott slides.”
Sloan’s mom, Helen, who worked at the Space Needle, loves sharing her AstroWorld memories. Her three kids (and even her husband) think it’s cool she worked there. Helen is a fan of Travis Scott and likes sharing excitement about his music with her kids. “Sure there may be more bad words than I would like but the same can be said about the riders on the Texas Cyclone.”
So whether you’re more old school “rapping up the steep hill of the Texas Cyclone” or more new school “rapping down to a moshpit with Travis Scott” we can all agree that both Astroworlds are a heck of a ride.
We hope everyone has a great time at the Astroworld Festival on Saturday. We also hope the lines are shorter than the sometimes hour-long wait for the Texas Cyclone …without a cell phone, no less. It was tough in the olden days!
Travis, thanks for the Houston love and for letting all fans celebrate AstroWorld. It’s like a life-long season pass for all of us.
Share your AstroWorld memories below.
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