After news broke earlier in January that Universal Parks & Resorts plans to build a new theme park in Frisco, many people around Texas expressed their excitement about the upcoming attractions and, further, reminisced on amusements come and gone.
MyHighPlains.com has compiled a guide to some of the most iconic theme parks in Texas that are gone, but not forgotten.
Aquarena Springs in San Marcos – 1951 – 1996
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Aquarena Springs was born out of a hotel property that was initially developed in the late 1920s, with the amusement park being added to the property in 1951 after the construction of a submarine theater and a large spillway at one end of the property’s lake. The park featured attractions such as the Alpine Swiss Sky Ride, “Ralph, the Famous Swimming Pig,” and “mermaid” performers visible from the submarine theater. According to historians, the park’s arcade also featured a Tic-tac-toe game in which human customers could “compete” against chickens.
The Aquarena Springs amusement park closed in the 1990s after the land was acquired by Texas State University – San Marcos, and its dismantling was considered officially complete with the end of the Submarine Theater and Sky Spiral in 2012, as noted in Texas Highways.
In its wake, the closure of the park led in part to the founding of the Mermaid Society of Texas in 2016, which reports note hosts an annual promenade for the area’s river in celebration of Aquarena’s mermaid performers. Further, San Marcos was recognized by the Texas Legislature in 2021 in a Senate resolution as the “Mermaid Capital of Texas.”
Currently, what was once the park is now the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, which officials describe as an educational center aiming to preserve the resources of Spring Lake, which stands as one of the world’s largest aquifer-fed ecosystems.
Beach Amusement Park in Galveston – 1920 – 1950
According to the Roller Coaster DataBase, Beach Amusement Park in Galveston shared a city block with the Crystal Palace between 23rd and 24th streets after its park and signature roller coaster, an old mill ride, were erected at the beginning of the 1920s. The park was known as “Old Mill Park” and “Crystal Park” before it started appearing on maps as “Beach Amusement Park.”
The Crystal Palace Bathhouse, in the same block, added to the area’s notoriety while being advertised as, “The South’s Greatest, Grandest Amusement Resort” overlooking Galveston’s Boulevard in local newspapers at the time of its 1916 opening.
Not only was it promoted as sturdier than previous wooden bathhouses in the area that were destroyed in hurricanes, by virtue of being constructed of concrete and steel, but it offered a heated indoor pool, restaurant, roof garden, and ice skating rink. The Galveston & Texas History Center noted that the bathhouse, however, was demolished a few years before the Beach Amusement Park in 1941.
Boardwalk Fun Park in Grand Prairie – 1982 – 1992
Originally a water park in the Grand Prairie Entertainment district known as “White Water” in 1982, the site was purchased and closed by Wet ‘n Wild in 1985, Boardwalk Fun Park was redeveloped in 1991 and 1992 by new owners.
However, according to reports from the time via The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle, an accident on the park’s “Pipeline Express” roller coaster resulted in the serious injury of a 12-year-old and led to its closure. While reports following the accident noted that the park aimed at reopening for the 1993 season, but its gates never reopened. The land was purchased in 1996 by Automotive Investment Group and was replaced by a Grand Prairie Ford dealership in 1999.
Busch Gardens in Houston – 1971 -1973
As noted by local archivists, Busch Gardens Houston opened in May 1971 near the Anheuser-Busch brewery. The park was advertised as having an “Asian” theme aside from an ice cave that hosted a range of penguins, polar bears and sea lions. Otherwise, the park was home to an elephant compound, a Bengal tiger temple, a rhinoceros compound, and a list of other animals and enclosures.
Reports from the era also mentioned multiple attractions aimed at children, including a Ferris wheel and Sherpa Slide, and a boat-ride canal for visitors.
However, despite the attractions, reports such as one from CHRON noted that the first year’s attendance fell short of the expected 800,000, which led to the company closing down most of its wild animal displays. Company leadership called the park “unprofitable” in 1973 and said it would be converted into a sales promotion facility.
Fame City Waterworks in Houston – 1986 – 2005
First reported on by the New York Times in 1986, Fame City Waterworks was part of the Fame City amusement complex, with attractions including a lazy river, speed slides, and a play area for younger children. As noted by CHRON reports, its founder sold the park a few years after opening.
While exact information on the date of Fame City Water Works’ closure is sparse, local online discussion and mentions of its final form as “Adventure Bay” in the Houston Press put its closure sometime around 2005.
The rest of the amusement complex featured attractions such as a Ferris wheel and a bowling alley, and “Amusement Business” reported that it was taken over by the Chados Brothers in 1991 before being rebranded as the “Funplex.”
Hanna-Barbera Land in Spring – 1984 – 1985
Created by the same company that owned the Kings Island theme parks, Kings Entertainment Company opened Hanna-Barbera Land in Spring in 1984. A retrospective from the Houston Chronicle noted that after entering through a rainbow archway, visitors were able to see attractions such as a character-themed carousel, a Scooby-Doo roller coaster (which, according to roller coaster archives, now exists as “Woodstock’s Express” in California’s Great America), a giant jungle gym, live music, and a Smurf-themed restaurant.
However, as detailed in reports such as one from Houstonia Magazine, an oil bust in the early 1980s impacted the Houston region’s economy. Compounded by competition with other parks such as AstroWorld and other business issues, Hanna-Barbera Land closed its gates in 1985. After its closure, the park was sold multiple times before eventually being rebranded into Six Flags Hurricane Harbor SplashTown.
International Wildlife Park in Grand Prairie – 1971 – 1992
About three miles from Six Flags Over Texas and covering nearly 435 acres, International Wildlife Park debuted in Grand Prairie in the early 1970s with a showcase of 1,500 free-roaming animals meant to convey a feeling of embarking on an African safari. Its range of attractions included boat and jeep rides and a petting zoo that bolstered its popularity.
However, as noted in reports from The Dallas Morning News, the park struggled with caring for its animals in the face of extreme Texas weather. Ice storms in 1978 killed nearly 20 animals in the park in two weeks, which combined with ethical quandaries to embroil the park in controversy. Flooding in 1989 and 1990 devastated the park again, destroying many buildings and killing 50 animals. Although some talks of relocating were held afterward, which never came to fruition, the International Wildlife Park closed in 1991.
Joyland Amusement Park in Lubbock – 1972 – 2023
Taking the status of the most recent closure on this list, Lubbock’s “Joyland” announced its permanent closure in January 2023 after celebrating 50 years in business.
Joyland Amusement Park grew out of the previously-established Mackenzie Park Playground, opening officially as Joyland in 1972. It featured a number of water rides and roller coasters alongside other attractions and games, including the “Sand Storm” coaster and thrill rides such as “The X-Factor Extreme.”
In October 2022, KLBK reported that the family that had been longtime owners of the park reached a deal with new buyers to continue its operation. However, in January 2023, it was announced that the investors involved in that deal had backed out, with the park’s liquidation now expected to proceed.
After the announcement, the Joyland Amusement Park website was updated to include contact information for those interested in purchasing its rides and equipment. The future of the park’s grounds remains to be seen.
Luna Park in Houston – 1924 – 1934
Recorded in archived reports from the time that credited the park with Houston’s first roller coaster, as well as “virtually every variety of amusement device known in the world of showdom,” Luna Park opened to the public in 1924. Credited as being the highest roller coaster in the US at the time, the 100-foot Skyrocket accompanied other attractions such as a merry-go-round, a miniature railway, and live entertainment options.
However, as noted in the Houstorian and archival reports, the park experienced a number of controversies during its run. In 1924, a lawsuit was filed against the park by a patron on claims of discrimination and violence. In October of that year, two people were killed after falling from the Skyrocket, and a third person was killed when a parachute failed to open during an attempted stunt. The next year, another person was stabbed while on the park grounds.
Luna Park fell into decline after the 1929 stock market crash, and a series of incidents recorded in local newspapers in the early 1930s contributed to its closure, including the discovery of a person’s corpse on the grounds and a person’s car being hijacked. The park was officially shut down by 1934.
The park’s Skyrocket roller coaster was relocated to Playland Park, and reopened to the public in 1941. It remained in operation, according to The Buzz Magazines and reports from the time, until around 1964. Playland Park, similarly, ran from around 1940 until 1967, just prior to the opening of AstroWorld.
Magic Landing in El Paso – 1984 – 1988
Magic Landing opened in El Paso in July 1984, according to reports from the time, though its run would be brief and marred by misfortune. At the time of its opening, it included the Old Galveston Railway, a 15-story-tall Ferris wheel, a log flume, and other attractions that drew visitors.
A year later, as noted by the El Paso Times, it earned the nickname “Tragic Landing” when 18-year-old park employee Frank Guzman Jr. was killed when his arm was severed by a roller-coaster car. The subsequent high insurance rate for the park’s policy, paired with low attendance numbers, led to its mid-season closure in 1988.
While it remained standing in the El Paso desert for decades after its closure, as seen in local archival blogs, Magic Landing was leveled by 2013.
Peppermint Park of Pasadena, Houston, and Friendswood – Late 1950s – 1994
Also known as “Peppermint Park Kiddieland,” Peppermint Park began in a Sears parking lot in Pasadena in 1956, according to the obituary of co-founder Bill Watson. Records note that the park moved to the Gulf Freeway in the early 1960s, and was shifted further to an indoor facility in Houston by 1972.
In 1979, according to the Houston Press, Peppermint Park changed hands and locations, shifting to Bobby and JoAnn Watkins and a candy-striped red and white building on Highway 59. It remained in that location until it was sold and closed in 1989. After it was taken over by Jeffrey Love, it was moved to Friendswood and operated until 1994.
Throughout its history, Peppermint Park’s attractions included a merry-go-round, boat ride, airplane ride, and a ball pit alongside a number of carnival games. It also hosted a 30th birthday party on its anniversary in 1988, as recorded in The Galveston Daily News at the time.
Playland Park in San Antonio – 1943 – 1980
While it and its signature roller coaster are often confused with Playland Park in Houston and its Skyrocket, Playland Park in San Antonio was an independent feature with its own local draw, owners, and history.
After opening in 1943, as recorded in retrospectives from local news outlets, Playland Park was the original home of “The Rocket” wooden roller coaster. It also featured a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, an archery range, a collection of games, a miniature golf course, and a “tunnel of love” among other attractions.
While operated as a local staple for decades, Playland saw its last day of operation on Labor Day 1980. According to one former visitor’s retrospective in a 1981 issue of Texas Monthly, the closure was the result of the economy, changing tastes, and “perhaps more than anything else. entropy.”
Sandy Lake Amusement Park in Carrollton – 1971 – 2018
In another instance of a park closing after seeing generations of guests, Sandy Lake Amusement Park closed in 2018 after 47 years of operation, after its owners announced the property’s selling and closure on social media.
According to the closure announcement, after its opening in 1971, the park rose in popularity due to its range of amusement rides, picnic grounds, and other attractions. Reports from the time of its closure said that the family that owned the park built it up in the early 1970s from a decades-old pool and a golf course.
Reports noted that the site was sold to a neighboring landscaping business, with a park owner stating that it would be used to store trees and plants.
Sesame Place in Irving – 1982 – 1985
An indoor theme park based on PBS’ iconic educational children’s program, “Sesame Street,” opened its doors in 1982, as recorded in The Bulletin newspaper. Sesame Place in Irving, marked by an entrance in the shape of a giant replica of Big Bird’s mouth, sprawled seven acres and offered a range of live animal shows, interactive activities based on land, air, and water, a restaurant, and walk around characters among its attractions.
Owned by the Busch Entertainment Corp., reports from the area noted that the park had over 280 temporary workers and 35 full-time workers at the time of its opening. Reports from the time also included a multi-article series from The Muenster Enterprise, which went in-depth in its explanations of the park’s different offerings for visitors.
However, despite promotion and iconic imagery, low attendance numbers led to the closure of Sesame Place in 1985, as recorded by United Press International.
Sesame Place in Irving was a counterpart to another park of its kind in Langhorne, Pa., which has been in operation since its debut in 1980.
However, the Langhorne location came into the spotlight in 2022 after a lawsuit alleged multiple incidents of discrimination by employees, which led to the company announcing the implementation of diversity and inclusion training.
Seven Seas Marine Life Park in Arlington – 1972 – 1976
Opening in 1972 and spanning 35 acres, Seven Seas Marine Life Park was built and owned by the City of Arlington and situated near both Six Flags Over Texas and the Arlington Stadium. According to archived reports and photos from the time in the University of Texas at Arlington’s digital library, it featured performing aquatic mammals and penguins, a killer whale, multiple rides, and different sections themed for separate regions of the world.
The $10 million park operated until rebranding as “Hawaii Kai” in May 1976, which was promoted as a water park with new theming and a waterfall. However, also according to archived reports and retrospectives such as from D Magazine, the park closed in September 1976.
After it was closed, reports noted that the marine animals were scattered across the country. A few years later, the city sold the site to a Dallas-based company with plans to construct office buildings and a hotel.
Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston – 1968 – 2005
Six Flags AstroWorld, or just “AstroWorld,” opened in June 1968 as an intended complement to the Astrodome, which was the first fully air-conditioned, enclosed, domed, multi-purpose sports stadium in the world. Credited with its creation was Roy Hofheinz, who was a multi-millionaire and former Houston mayor along with acting as president of the Houston Sports Association.
As noted by the Texas State Historical Association, Hofheinz hired the same firm for the park’s construction that designed Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, and pursued the park as a $25 million investment. He was so enthusiastic about the project that on AstroWorld’s opening day, according to reports from the time, “The Astrowizard himself, Judge Roy Hofheinz, impatiently unlocked the gates 15 minutes ahead of schedule.”
Among AstroWorld’s featured rides at its opening were the Astroway, the Alpine Sleigh Ride, a French taxi, and a train called 610 Limited. By 1970, it had added several other attractions and expanded with a new “Fun Island” section.
The Holfheinz family leased, then sold, AstroWorld to Six Flags in 1975. Over the next two decades, the park continued to expand and add an array of iconic rides, including the Texas Cyclone coaster, the Thunder River water ride, the Skyscreamer free-fall ride, the WaterWorld water park on the east side of the property, and the Southern Star Amphitheater.
AstroWorld stood as a local staple through the turn of the century with regular new additions and expansions. However, Six Flags closed the park in 2005 after the company cited a number of factors: Efforts to reduce corporate debt, declining attendance, rising property values, and parking issues related to the Reliant Stadium were among them.
At the end of its 37th season, AstroWorld closed its gates for good. In the wake of the closure the site was sold and the park was dismantled, but nothing was built in its place. According to reports from 2018, grass and asphalt now occupy the area, and it is used predominantly for parking and storage for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Along with popular feelings of sadness due to its closure and demolition, AstroWorld gained another piece of tragic notoriety over a decade beyond its final day. In November 2021, rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert – which also shared a name with his 2018 studio album – was also the site of a fatal push among concertgoers that resulted in the deaths of 10 people, including a 14-year-old.
Splash Amarillo Waterpark in Amarillo – 2000 – 2016
While many across Amarillo and the High Plains region know of local icons like Wonderland Amusement Park, fond memories also remain of the Splash Amarillo Waterpark, which was located near the Big Texan Steak Ranch and operated from 2000 through 2016.
Also known as FireWater Waterpark and Splash Kingdom, reports from local newspapers cited that Splash Amarillo spanned 13 acres and featured a 14,000-square-foot wave pool, a lazy river, slides, volleyball courts, and an arcade among its attractions.
However, while it spent 16 years entertaining Amarillo locals and tourists alike, its history was dotted with multiple temporary closures. In 2002, local news outlets reported that “FireWater Waterpark” faced a lawsuit after, as noted in reports from the time, the Satana Corporation claimed it had not repaid loans taken during the park’s construction. After filing for bankruptcy, the park changed hands and reopened in 2003 as Splash Amarillo.
The park faced another closure in 2009 after a fire in one of its major buildings, which news outlets noted led to the evacuation of over 200 patrons and over $70k in damage. However, it was refurbished in the wake of the fire and was operating again by 2011.
In 2016, the site of the park was purchased by the company that owns the Big Texan Steak Ranch, and Splash Amarillo was permanently closed. Other reports at the time noted that the slides would be relocated to a park in Plainview, but the site of the original Amarillo park remains cleared.
Splashtown San Antonio in San Antonio – 1985 – 2021
Another longstanding Texas water park was Splashtown San Antonio, originally known as “Water Park USA” when it opened in 1985 on the northeast side of the downtown area.
While it changed ownership and names multiple times throughout its history, Splashtown still entertained guests with a half-million-gallon wave pool, a lazy river, 40 water slides and tube rides, and other pools and attractions. A few of its more iconic rides, as advertised by the park itself, included “The Hydra Plunge,” “Starflight,” and “The Luge.”
However, after 37 years of operation, the park closed in 2021 at the end of its operating season and announced on social media that it would not reopen. Reports from the time noted that the San Antonio City Council approved a zoning change in the area to make room for a car dealership.