Astroworld model heads for Houston Public Library
HOUSTON Maybe there are odd gaps where landmarks -- the Black Dragon, say -- ought to be but aren't. And to be honest, maybe this 8-by-10-foot model -- designed to promote Astroworld, Space City's iconic amusement park -- is a tad tired and dusty. But in coming days, the model will be touched up, reglued and dusted -- restored to near-pristine condition for its planned exhibition later this year at the Houston Public Library's Julia Ideson Building. The model, offered for sale by Optical Project, a Houston Heights gallery, for $5,500, has been purchased at a discounted "keep it in Houston" price by I.A. Naman and Associates, the mechanical and electrical company that designed the park's revolutionary outdoor air conditioning system. "It's cool," said Naman president Thomas Barrow, adding that his firm will give the model to the library so the public can enjoy -- vicariously -- the defunct park's storied charms. The model is the handiwork of one-time Disney animator Ed Henderson. Commissioned by Astrodome booster Roy Hofheinz, the model first was featured in the show window of a downtown department store. Later, it was exhibited at the park and, until recently, had spent the years since the theme park's 2005 closing in Henderson's southwest Houston garage. For Astroworld fans -- a devoted, if not fanatical, set -- Henderson's model may be the next best thing to being there. Built in 1967, the year before Astroworld's opening, Henderson's model reproduces the park in intricate detail. Architecture students from Rice and the University of Houston completed many of the buildings, while the animator took care of the overall concept and glued in the landscape and attractions. In the model's extreme northwest corner is a private parking spot occupied by a miniature of Hofheinz's black Cadillac. The model was only one of Henderson's Astro-related projects. For 10 years, his film production company created animation for the Astrodome's scoreboard. At the park, Henderson created props and promotional items, such as the full-color maps given park patrons. Astroworld's owner, Six Flags Inc., closed the park in 2005, citing declining patronage and the rising value of the theme park's 109 acres. The vacant site has not been redeveloped. Most of the park's rides and equipment -- including the cots in the nurses' station -- later were liquidated in a three-day auction. The Greezed Lightnin', the park's steel shuttle-looper roller coaster, capable of accelerating riders from zero to 60 mph in four seconds, was moved to Lubbock. Some Astroworld fans, who continue to maintain a nostalgic website, never recovered from the loss. "Astroworld was a magical place," said one, Allen Hill, 40. "It was always a reward to get to go (there). It was a special treat, something that was always savored. The Greezed Lightnin' was worth waiting three hours for. It was cool." Among other park highlights was the Black Dragon -- Hill called it a "warm-up" ride -- the miniature version of which has fallen off the model. The model was returned to Henderson when the park closed, after which he kept it in his garage and restored some of the rides. Then, when he was introduced to Bill Davenport, the owner of Optical Project, he decided to sell. Although nostalgic for the park -- especially for its early years -- Henderson admitted he had little need for the scaled-down rendition. "What am I going to do with it?" he said. "I'm 86."