Archive for November, 2010

Houston’s Astro Playground

Ed Henderson and David Welling stand behind the minature model of the AstroWorld complex, as it was originally designed in 1968. The model is currently on exhibit at Optical Project.

Houston has seen a lot of its entertainment venues rise and fall. For the most part, these have been in the form of individual buildings, but in 2006, a whole world was leveled.

It went by the name of AstroWorld.

When it opened in 1968, I was ten years old. I went there during its first year, and lost count of the subsequent times I went back, usually being dropped off by my parents for a full day. It was a magical place, with only a fraction of the rides being “thrill rides.” This was very different from the AstroWorld that closed in 2005, with a long roster of roller coasters and similar thrillers.

It, along with its neighboring water park, WaterWorld, was razed the year following its closure. As of today, it still remains… (drum roll, please)… a vacant lot. A very big vacant lot, and used as a parking area on occasions such as the rodeo. Hey, good use of property, guys!

A recent exhibition opened with a unique bit of AstroWorld memorabilia. When the park was first constructed, Ed Henderson was commissioned to build a miniature three-dimensional model of the entire park. Henderson has had quite a career, from working for Walt Disney in California, to Judge Roy Hofheinz in Houston. He also ran the State Theatre on Washington at one time (and spoke to me about it at length when I was first starting work on the Cinema Houston book).

After the closure of AstroWorld, Henderson found his old miniature in a warehouse and has spent the last few years on its restoration. The replica is currently on exhibit through December 11 at Optical Project, 1125 East 11th Street. Regular viewing hours are noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. For information, call 713-863-7112.

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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a writer and artist who lives in Houston with his wife and two children. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.