Category Archives: Amusement Parks

Luna Park


[Luna Park - 1924 newspaper advertisement]

Rollercoaster.jpg
[1920's photo (looking west toward Luna Park) by Mary Bavouset, published with her permission in J.R. Gonazales' Bayou City History blog]


[1920's postcard of Houston showing Luna Park roller coaster in distance (top left)]


[Panoramic photo posted on HAIF by Kevin Jackson, reproduced from a panoramic photo that hangs or hung on the wall of the Harris County Smokehouse restaurant - the photo gives the park's address as 2212 Houston Avenue]


[Detail from photo on cover of Houston Then and Now showing Luna Park coaster in distance (top center)]

Luna Park was an amusement park located in the Heights area – on Houston Avenue, on the banks of White Oak Bayou – in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The park opened as Luna Park on June 26, 1924, though it may have been open under a different name before that, as images of the park purporting to be dated prior to 1924 exist. For example, the above panoramic photo of “Venice Park – Houston, Texas”, dated 1923, appears to show what became known as Luna Park.

A July 27, 1924 newspaper article described the park as follows:

The park has virtually every variety of amusement device known in the world of showdom. One of its biggest features is the giant skyrocket, a roller coaster larger and higher than any other operating in the United States. The skyrocket is a mile and a quarter long and at its highest point soars 110 feet in the air. The first drop on this mammoth devide is eighty-four feet. Some 2,500 to 3,000 persons ride the twelve cars of the big ride each night. Many other amusement devices dot the thirty-six acre park, which is located within five minutes’ ride from the heart of Houston. A monstrous seaplane swing also has been installed in the park, as has a caterpillar, a merry-go-round, dodgem, baby airplane swing, junior Ferris wheel, miniature railway and other devices.

Three shows now are operating. The Mysterious Sensation, a weird novelty, is proving the stellar attraction. Williamson’s Midget City, a show that has played at many fairs and expositions, also is operating. Another show, “See America First,” described as the latest sensation from Coney Island, is the third show now operating in Luna’s joy lane.

The park is featuring a picnic grove of several acres in area. Here more than a hundred rustic benches and tables have been installed. Picnickers throng the park every afternoon, there being a large number of fraternal, church and Sunday school picnics booked before the end of the summer season.

Luna Park will be an all-year resort, remaining open winter and summer. During the winter months the park’s big dancing casino will prove to be the main attraction. Free automobile parking within the gates is attracting many motorists to the playground each night.

The park’s “scenic railway” was reported to be two feet higher than Coney Island’s, and the dance pavillion was at the time the largest in the south. Luna Park also hired stunt flyer Francis H. Rust to stage night-flying stunts overhead.

Tough Times

Nearly as soon as it opened, however, Luna Park was a center of controversy. A lawsuit was filed against it in July 1924, by a woman who said she was “roughly treated” while standing in line for the roller coaster. She claimed that a park employee “caught her by the arms and desisted only after the crowd threatened to lynch or mob him.”

The park was sued again that August, for noise pollution. A Heights resident complained that “sleep is impossible” when the park’s roller coaster and other devices are operating, though the park’s witnesses testified that the street cars along Houston Avenue made far more noise than all the attractions combined.

Also in August 1924, a local newspaper reported:

The Mexican consulate in Houston may be closed in protest against “discriminatory tactics” against Mexicans, according to Consul H. Valdez. The protest grew out of the arrest and beating of a Mexican boy Wednesday night, after he had been refused admission to the Luna Park dance floor. The boy is Jesus Prieto Laurens, a graduate of Ohio University. He escorted to the dance a prominent Mexican girl, who recently won a beauty prize offered by the Salesmanship Club. He was sold tickets, but was not allowed to enter the dance hall, and when he asked for an explanation he was arrested and charged with assault. While being taken to the police station, the boy says, he was beaten and cursed. His brother, G. Prieto Laurens, former consul here, was held off at the point of a gun when he attempted to aid his brother, it was stated. Another brother of the boy formerly was mayor of Mexico City and governor of the state of San Luis Potosi. The grand jury today began an investigation of the case.

Houston Deputy Constable Frenchy Naquin was charged with assault in the matter, but was ultimately acquitted. At the time he was acquitted, he was also standing charges for assault on a man who was a “keeper of a parking place” near Luna Park.

Sadly, the history of Luna Park soon darkened further. On a single afternoon in October 1924, in two separate incidents, three people died at the park. A professional parachutist, Montie LeMay, was killed when her parachute failed to open. At nearly the same time, Mary Alta Watson and Charles C. Johnson were killed in a fall from the Luna Park roller coaster.

A year later, in August 1925, the Rice Hotel’s barber was stabbed several times at Luna Park.

Happier Days

However, the park remained a popular attraction, as demonstrated by a newspaper report on the Labor Day events of 1925:

The sturdy hands that provide the skill and man power to carry on Houston’s vast trade and industry were busy today at sports, atheltics and amusements at Luna Park. Between 10,000 and 15,000 members of labor unions and crafts, their families and friends thronged into the park throughout the day to enjoy the Labor Day festivites arranged in their honor. There were wrestling and boxing matches in the mammoth inverted bowl of a dancing casino, beginning at 1 p.m. Then there were races and other contests, with prizes to the winners; children’s games; awards to the best looking woman, the oldest couple, the fattest, the tallest, the shortest, the ugliest, and so on. Diving horses performed at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

A month later, the Houston and Galveston chapters of the Red Men fraternal organization held a joint “powwow” at the park, described as “one of the most spectacular and interesting of the typical celebrations held under the auspices of Texas Red Men.” The meeting featured “an outdoor initiation and war dance staged by the Galveston degree team in full regalia.” The war dance was staged just after dark, in the picnic grove, which was “appropriately lighted.”

By 1928, even the Mexican consulate appears to have made its peace with Luna Park. In observation of Mexican Independence Day, the consulate organized a two-day program at the park featuring “patriotic speeches, patriotic music; several entertainment features; and a reading of the Mexican Declaration of Independence.”

Marathons

Another noteworthy event in 1928 was a dance marathon at the dance casino:

Fifteen couples and a lone youth shuffled about the Luna Park dance casino today, the third day of a marathon which so far has seen the elimination of only five couples. One little blonde was eliminated from the marathon by her husband of three weeks who went to the dance hall last night. She argued with him, holding the hope of a “first payment on a home” with the prize money, but friend husband was obdurate, and home with him she went. One mother sat up all last night, holding a shoe box in her lap with food and first aid equipment to minister to her daughter who milled about in the long grind. The lone boy will be allowed ten hours, and unless a partner is provided, he will be ruled out. If some girl survives a boy partner in the grind, he will draw her for a partner.

Surprisingly, a report following several days later found the dance marathon still in progress:

Twenty-three pairs of blistered, burning feet were still shuffling about the Luna Park dance hall today in the dance marathon which started a week ago from from last Thursday. There are thirteen boys and ten girls still in the long grind; the three boys being without partners, who succumbed to weariness. The marathon has become grim business; the contestants rush to their cots for the fifteen-minute rest periods each hour; and sleep till roused. Some doze on their feet as they dance. The contestants are spurred on by $1,000 in prize money, three-fourths of which will go to the winning couple.

As the third week of the dancing marathon began, it was reported that the dancers were “continuing by dint of much smelling salts and determination.” But the marathon was clearly taking a toll on its participants:

Two girls, Phyllis Dreyer and Lucille Nelson, fainted last night on the floor, but were revived within the alotted five minutes by nurses and continued the grind. Fred Bradford fell asleep while dancing and tumbled forward on the floor, bruising a knee. He started dancing again, and shuffles along with a limp. Two of the stonger contestants aided Jean Inglehart to stay on his feet last night after he fainted, until he recovered sufficiently to proceed under his own power. The contestants help each other, rather than trying to get them out. The dancers shuffle for forty-five minutes and then rest fifteen in each hour.

The dancing marathon was apparently a promotional success, as a “floating marathon” was scheduled in the park in 1929, and a water tank constructed specially for the event. The floating marathon was billed as the first ever held in the state, and possibly in the world – the winner was to be named the floating champion of the world. Early favorites were 300-pound Tony Roselli and “star long distance swimmer” Lee Colombo.

Park Closes

But the 1930’s brought a return of the park’s early bad luck. In 1930, a man was discovered dead in the picnic grounds, his body having “apparently been there for several days” before police received an anonymous tip. And, in 1932, a Webster farmer was hijacked in his car outside Luna Park. It is unclear exactly when, but the park appears to have closed sometime in the early 1930’s, perhaps a victim of the Great Depression.

More information:
HAIF discussion re Luna Park
Another HAIF discussion re Luna Park
SixFlagsHouston.com discussion re Luna Park
PBS special that includes Luna Park

Highland Park

Highland Park
[Highland Park promenade (postmarked 1908) - University of Houston Libraries postcard collection]

Highland Park
[Highland Park "lake" - HoustonHistory.com]

Highland Park
[Highland Park - HoustonHistory.com]

Highland Park, which opened in Woodland Heights in 1903, was developed by the private Houston Electric Company, which then controlled Houston’s streetcar system, to encourage ridership on its new extension up Houston Avenue. At the time, Houston’s first public park, Sam Houston Park, was the only other large park in Houston. Highland Park would ultimately become Houston’s second public park – the park now known as Woodland Park.

The park was operated by Fred Bishop, who leased the property from the streetcar company. The park was scheduled to open to the public on July 4, 1903, but the opening was postponed a day due to rain. A large crowd was guaranteed because both the clerk’s union and the Woodmen of the World (Magnolia Camp) held their annual picnics at the park that day. The Galveston newspaper reported that: “A programme of interesting events fully a yard long had been prepared and kept up interest at a high pitch from the opening of the festivities until the day was at an end.”

Other groups holding picnics at the park in its opening weeks were the Painters Union and the Houston Civic Club’s First Ward Division. The Painters Union’s entertainment program included James E. Black, a “singer, dancer, and acrobatic high kicker without legs”; and Charlie Ward, described as “Comedian: blackface specialty.” However, dancing was the evening’s main feature.

In its early days, the park’s primary attraction was a dance pavilion, where patrons would waltz and two-step. The park had its own band, the Highland Park Band, made up of about 20 musicians. By August 1903, a gravel path had been added between the streetcar stop and the pavilion, but work continued on the park. In the winter months that followed, most press coverage related to the park was devoted to the Highland Park Gun Club, which held shooting tournaments at the park’s gun range.

Highland Park
[Boat House at Highland Park (postmarked 1908) - University of Houston Libraries postcard collection]

By the time the park reopened for warm-weather use in 1904 – again for the Woodmen of the World annual picnic, complete with “minstrel performances” – a lake (formed by damming Little White Oak Bayou, sometimes called Hollywood Bayou), bridges, boats, fountains, and a cafe had been added, and the pavilion (which doubled as a summer theater) had been renovated. The Galveston newspaper described the park as follows:

Adding grace and beauty to the park are great, tall, towering majestic pine trees and shrub oaks, wierdly beautiful with a fantastic drapery of moss suspended from their branches and festooned around their boughs, bidding a fond welcome to the visitor and offering a cooling retreat from the burning rays of Old Sol. Situated on a grassy eminence fifteen, feet higher than any other spots in Houston the first structure that meets the eye is a large and commodious cafe and buffet building with a capacity to feed and entertain 1,000 people. Broad, wide galleries surround this building on all aides, where cooling drinks and refreshments are served at all hours at reasonable prices. This building commands a fine view of the park and adjoining country and its galleries rest on the edge ot a bluff overlooking the valley wherein sparkle the waters of a lake, dotted here and there with islands, while a gasoline launch and numerous pleasure boats dart hither and thither, forming a scene of animation and enjoyment exquisitely beautiful. Nestled between the hills fifty feet below the cafe and buffet building, with the rays of the sun glittering and sparkling upon its clear transparent surface is a lake of exceptional beauty and picturesqueness. Surrounding the lake on all sides are comfortable tree seats and rustic benches where the pleasure seekers, wishing to rest, may have ample opportunity. Special anangcments have been made with the United States Government whereby 50,000 fish, including the big-mouthed bass and trout, are to be shipped from the United States fish hatcheries at San Marcos to stock the waters of the lake and bayou. In a year or two, when these game members of the finny tribe have attained their full growth, the lake will afford the finest fishing to be had in this section. A few yards from the edge of the lake is an artesian well 478 feet deep, which has a flow of 75,000 gallons daily, furnishing patrons of the park with pure crystal mineral water. The water was tested by a chemist and found to contain a certain per cent of lithia, thus giving it curative properties of exceptional value. Arc lamps are distributed throughout the grounds, and thousands of incandescent lamps are suspended from wires overhead, lighting up the lanes and places of amusement and sparkling like millions of fireflies in the darkness. The surface of the lake, shining and glimmering in the moonlight, reflects the myriad electric lights, the pleasure boats with their gay occupants and the shadows of the great pine trees lend a touch of mystic enchantment to the scene. On the largest Island, which is situated in the center of the lake, is a circular band stand connecting with the main land by rustic bridges, which span the lake on either side.

Some of these park features can be seen in the Highland Park postcards above. Houstorian has found no online photographs of Highland Park, though some may exist in a library collection and/or Houston newspaper archives. Also, a 1904 newspaper article about the park noted that an automobile party that included Baron Masanao Matsudaira and Harvey T.D. Wilson (who had an interest of some sort in the Japanese colony in Webster) took “kodak pictures” of the park, using Mr. Wilson’s camera, on June 19, 1904. So photographs of the park may exist somewhere.

By June 1904, a number of unions had placed Houston Electric Company on their “unfair” list, and begun fining members seen riding the streetcars or visiting Highland Park. One of the unions’ complaints against the company was that it was not hiring union labor at Highland Park. On July 7, 1904, a streetcar returning from Highland Park was dynamited. The car was thrown from its track, one of its wheels was blown off, and its glass windows shattered, raining glass on its full load of passengers. Remarkably, though, none of the riders was injured, a fact deemed “little short of miraculous.” The attack was one of a number of similar incidents around the same time period, all of which were blamed on union interests.

Highland Park
["Shoot the Chute" at Highland Park]

Despite ongoing labor problems, including a strike of streetcar operators and workers, improvements at Highland Park continued. A “shoot the chutes” attraction was added in 1904, as pictured above. A “museum of natural history” – sometimes referred to as the Natural History and Fish Museum – was also added in 1904.

In October 1904, charges were filed against Fred Bishop, the park’s manager, for allowing a theater production to be presented on a Sunday. A newspaper account noted: “The laws covering the case are peculiar and prosecution difficult if any offense exists.” The charges were ultimately dismissed on the grounds that no admission had been charged for the theater production.

The 1905 season at Highland Park opened with a hot-air balloon ascension plus parachute descension. The park also touted games of “water baseball,” using floating rafts as bases. However, the crowds came for the new construction – the “scenic railway” called the “figure 8″ or “roller coaster”:

The “roller coaster” was the leading attraction. The cars were filled from the start, and be it known that boys were not the only patrons, for many men of various ages clamored for seats in the “coasters.” The ride is thrilling in the extreme, but is so smooth and pleasant that there is never a jar of the nerves, though they are essentially tense. The coasters are hauled up a steep incline about fifty feet by a chain belt run by an electric motor. The coaster is then released and Newton’s law does the rest. You plunge forward at a most thrilling gait and many are the ups and downs, ins and outs, but all pleasant, before the end is reached.

The ride is calculated to cure a malady of most any kind, mental or physical. It simply puts new vigor in the heart and new speed through the veins. Its exhilirating effects are almost instantly noticeable. Should a patron mount a car with his blood flowing sluggishly, his heart beating slowly and away down in his shoes, when he whirls through the air up and down, round and round, and alights from the car he will be a new man, and his best girl will be in love with him. It is a panacea for almost any trouble, mental or physical.

In November 1905, Houston Electric Company sued Highland Park manager Fred Bishop for past-due rental payments, plus $30,000 in damages for violation of the parties’ lease agreement. The alleged violation was supposedly Bishop’s “admission of improper characters to the park.” M.C. Michael took over the lease in 1906.

The park continued to operate as Highland Park until no later than June 1908, when it was reopened as “San Jacinto Park” under the auspices of the Houston Civic Club. The new name was confusing because there was already a park at the San Jacinto battleground, and it does not appear to have gained acceptance.

The city of Houston purchased the park in 1911. In 1914, residents of the Woodland Heights neighborhood, which was platted in 1907, successfully petitioned to have the park’s name changed to Woodland Park.

There are still reminders of Highland Park in Woodland Heights today. There is of course Woodland Park itself, which Houstonians continue to enjoy. But there is also, a block to the west, a nursing home named “Highland Park Care Center”. And a Highland Street a few blocks to the north.

For more information:
Steven M. Baron, Houston Electric: The Street Railways of Houston, Texas (1996)

Epsom Downs and Arrowhead Park


[Epsom Downs]


[Epsom Downs newspaper advertisement]


[A.J. Foyt at Arrowhead Park - foytracing.com]


[Monorail prototype at Arrowhead Park - Monorails.org]

Pari-mutuel wagering was first legal in Texas from 1933 to 1937, during which time the two top horse racing tracks in the state were Arlington Downs, between Dallas and Fort Worth, and Epsom Downs in Houston. Arlington Downs was constructed and opened in 1929 by William T. Waggoner, at a cost of $3 million. Between 1929 and 1933, Waggoner used the park for prize races and civic events, and participated in the lobbying efforts that helped bring about the Texas state legislature’s legalization of pari-mutuel betting. Waggoner lived to see Arlington Downs’ early success, but died in 1934.

Epsom Downs was built at a location off Jensen Drive, then known as the Humble road, about six miles outside what were then the city limits. It was named after the famous Epsom Downs in England, site of the English Derby – the San Antonio paper did not think much of the name, opining that “Houstonians could have picked better.” The park was built by Montreal turfman Lou Smith, who had built the Rockingham Park track in Salem, New Hampshire. Epsom Downs was a replica of Rockingham Park (though papers often reported it as being a replica of the English park), and was built – in a hurry – for somewhere in the range of $400,000 to $600,000 (reports vary). The grandstand seated 4,000, and a terrace in front of it provided standing room for 25,000.

The inaugural race at Epsom Downs occurred on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1933, just after the end of a successful meet at Arlington Downs. The feature race was the six-furlong Thanksgiving Day Handicap. Governor Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson attended with her husband, former governor Jim Ferguson, skipping the annual U.T./A&M football game. Approximately 30,000 other spectators were also in attendance to see Gift of Roses win the handicap.

The Epsom Downs meet lasted 27 days and featured a “Galveston Day”, a “Port Arthur Day”, a “Beaumont Day”, a “Fort Worth Day”, a “Dallas Day”, a “Waco Day”, a “Temple Day”, an “Austin Day”, a “San Antonio Day”, and a “Corpus Christi Day”. More than 1,000 throroughbreds pariticipated.

Opponents of pari-mutuel wagering were successful in having the betting laws repealed in 1937, but the pari-mutuel wagering lobby did not abandon its cause. In the 1940’s, Houston oil man George H. Echols joined the fight. By 1947, a bill was introduced in the Texas legislature that would again make betting on horses legal in Texas.

Like Waggoner before him, Echols began building his horse track while pari mutuel wagering was still illegal. A February 9, 1947 newspaper article reported: “A racing plant estimated to cost $1,250,000 will open [in Houston] late in May, George H. Echols, Houston oil man, announced today. He said he expected to offer a year-round sports program with quarter horse races, rodeos, trotting races, horse shows, and cattle shows.”

An article published the next day suggested that Echols’ plans were unrelated to the bill pending in the Texas legislature, saying that Echols planned to build the race track regardless of the bill’s outcome. “Echols isn’t concerned over whether the bill passes or not; he’s going to conduct his racing strip for the sport that’s in it.” Echols was quoted as saying: “For a long time, it has been my ambition to build a race track for quarter horses. Those are the horses that had so much to do with building Texas. Quarter horses, sometimes called range horses or cowponies, are dear to the heart of all true Texans.”

The park would be called Arrowhead Park. It would encompass 121 acres, and the track would be a half mile oval with three-eighths of a mile straightaways. The grandstand would seat 3,450, the bleachers 1,500, and the clubhouse 300. Echols was installing a $68,000 light system so that events could be held at night.

A March 7, 1947 newspaper article reporting that the pari mutuel wagering bill was having a difficult time getting out of committee put a rest to any notion that Echols was building Arrowhead Park purely for the love of the sport. The article noted that Echols “already is building Arrowhead Park, a $1,250,000 racing plant on Old Spanish Trail six miles from downtown Houston.” If the Texas legislature did not pass the bill, said Echols, he would go forward with a plan to build a horse track just across the Louisiana border: “Then the Texas money can continue to flow out of Texas and the Baptist preachers can continue to stick their noses into politics, instead of staying in their pulpits.”

Arrowhead Park was built, but the pari-mutuel wagering bill did not pass. The park hosted quarter horse racing starting in June 1947. However, without betting, the venture was apparently not successful. By September, it was reported that Echols had leased the park to “miniature auto racing interests”. In 1954, ran for state representative, campaigning “on a platform of liquor by the shot and local option for horse racing,” but did not win.

Arrowhead Park would become known for auto racing and not horse racing. Indeed, Heights-born A.J. Foyt raced (and crashed) his father’s midget car at Arrowhead Park in 1955.

In that same year, a monorail prototype created by a Houston company, Monorail, Inc., was exhibited at Arrowhead Park.

The Texas state legislature did not authorize pari-mutuel betting again until 1986.

Busch Gardens (1971-1973)


[Original photo on file.]

[Original photo on file.]

[Original photo on file.]

Houston’s Busch Gardens was around only briefly – the park opened in May 1971 and was closed within two years. It was located adjacent to the Anheuser-Busch brewery (775 Gellhorn Dr.), which opened in 1966.

The Galveston Daily News reported on May 23, 1971:

A $12 million amusements park patterned after Florida’s biggest tourist attraction opens next Saturday in northeast Houston. The 40-acre Busch Gardens primarily has an Asian theme except for an ice cave with a temperature controlled environment for several varieties of penguins, polar bears and sea lions. Otherwise there are islands with monkeys, an elephant compound, deer parks, a Bengal tiger temple, a rhinoceros compound, a bear and cat cub arena, and an area where youngsters can pet lambs, goats and llamas. Other animals include . . . antelope, yaks, Bactrian camels, and lesser pandas. A large freeflight cage with walkways houses over 100 species of foreign birds, hidden wire mesh perches are wired to heat the feet of the birds electrically. Benches used by the monkeys also have electrical heating systems. The park is adjacent to the Houston plant of Anheuser-Busch Inc., which also operates the Tampa Gardens . . . . Transportation in the Houston Gardens include a boat route that covers two-thirds of the grounds, including passages through the ice cave and freeflight bird cage. There also is a train modeled alter the early English steam locomotives widely used in Asia during the I9th century. A 950-seat ampitheater features the trademark of all the Busch Gardens, a bird show with trained macaws and cockatoos. There is an admission charge of $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for children from 3 to 12 but there is free beer for adults. The Gardens started out with no charge but the high cost of animals, birds and labor forced a policy change. The Houston Gardens already have had a $30,000 casualty. One of the two early arriving rhinos became ill and died of what was determined to be acute indigestion. Tampa’s Gardens attract some [2.5] million people a year. Houston expects 700,000 to 800,000 [t]he first year with the annual average leveling out to about one million after three years. With a permanent staff of from 75 to 80, the gardens will have some 300 employes in summer months. The gardens are to open with operating hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Busch spokesmen acknowledge late summer heat may force some adjustments for the protection of the animals. Saturday’s opening will follow a Friday dedication luncheon to be given by August A. Busch Jr. for several hundred guests.

A Corpus Christi Caller-Times article that also appeared on May 23, 1971, varied slightly:

The state’s newest tourist attraction, Busch Gardens, Houston, will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 29. The 11-million dollar garden and zoo is located adjacent to Anheuser-Busch Brewery. This garden, although similar to the giant complexes operated by Anheuser-Busch in Tampa, Los Angeles, and St Louis, will create a new environment featuring Asian animals, architecture and landscaping. It will actually be two gardens. The large garden and zoo area will cover about 40 acres. Admission fees of $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for children will be charged for this area. A smaller ‘mini-garden’ with various animal and other displays, will be located alongside the larger area. There will be no charge for admission to the mini-garden. One of the principal features of the park will be a canal, in which a series of water-propelled boats provide visitor transportation. Quiet, completely safe and comfortable, the boat ride will take a passenger past about three-fourths of the gardens. Midway in the boat ride guests may disembark to enjoy the animal contact area. For those who want to walk part or all of the way through the entire area, enticing paths allow them to proceed at their own pace. During the summer Houston Busch Gardens will be open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. After Sept 7, the Gardens will operate Saturday and Sunday only. Winter hours will be 9 a.m -5 p.m.

A later Caller-Times piece also mentioned a Sherpa Slide and ferris wheel for children. A Brownsville Herald article referred to the boat-ride canal as the “Ceylon Channel”, stated that the park had “some 30 species of mammals,” and noted that 12 acres of the 40-acre property were devoted to parking.

The park appeared to have been going strong at its one-year anniversary. The Deer Park Progress wrote on June 15, 1972:

Busch Gardens is now open for its second season with new attractions, rides, live talent and extended hours according to general manager Dick O’Connor. The Gardens will be open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 a,m. to 8 p.m. and Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. One of the new attractions planned this year is an elephant ride for the children. And there will be a live talent show, with various Houston area groups and other talented performers. A special sound stage has been built in the middle of The Gardens. The always popular Bird Show given three times a day in the amphitheater will be repeated this year. Some of the other popular attractions at The Gardens include the Ceylon Channel Boat Ride, the walk through a Free Flight Bird Cage and viewing the antics of Arctic animals in the dome-shaped Ice Cave. The tiger display will again intrigue visitors of all ages. This Asian-themed family entertainment and educational facility, situated next to the Houston plant for Anheuser-Busch off Interstate 10 in east Houston, will be even more colorful and lush this year because of the growth of the landscaping, most of which was planted just a year ago. New additions to the over 30 species of mammals and more than 100 species of birds and water fowl will be seen by visitors.

Sadly, though, as the Victoria Advocate reported on December 23, 1972, “attendance the first year fell far short of the expected 800,000.” Busch Gardens “will shut down most of its wild animal displays next year because of low attendance and high costs,” the article stated. On January 4, 1973, as reported in the Deer Park Progress, August A. Busch, Jr. announced that Houston’s Busch Gardens had been “unprofitable,” that “[a]ll efforts to improve the situation have been unsuccessful,” and that the park would be converted into “a sales promotion facility for the company’s beer sales division.” The Baytown Sun, in a June 3, 1973 article, called the park a “disaster” – noting that “[t]he brewery people lost $4 million on the project in a recent fiscal quarter.”