six flags over texas -- 4/03/20

Today's selection -- from The Amusement Park by Stephen M. Silverman. For those growing up in Texas, the 1961 opening of Six Flags was the answer to 1955's Disneyland in Southern California. The fate of Six Flags was not quite the same:

"Angus Gilchrist Wynne Jr. ( 1914-1979) was of a new breed, although, like War­ner LeRoy, he was born to privilege and larger than life -- in Wynne's case, like the state he hailed from. His father, Angus Sr., was a Texas land developer and president of the State Bar, which he had founded. Like his father, Angus Jr. developed property. His company, American Home Realty, was responsible for the fifty-three-acre Wynne­wood Village in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, the country's largest retail complex of its kind at the time. Having been to Disneyland with his family, and liking what he saw, Wynne approached Disney with a proposal to build an entire entertainment complex somewhere between Fort Worth and Dallas. Only by then, Walt was being courted by several others, all of whose offers he declined.

"Not one to take no for an answer, Wynne set about building his own $10 million amusement kingdom in Arlington, exactly midway between the forty miles separating Fort Worth and Dallas. According to local lore, he planned to call the 150 acres [Texas Under Six Flags], for the six sovereigns that ruled the land beginning in 1519 -- Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States -- that is, until Wynne's wife, Joann, snapped, 'Texas isn't under anything.' It would be called Six Flags over Texas. (In 2017, because of connotations associated with the Confed­erate flag, the logo's six separate banners were replaced with six Stars and Stripes, in order, said a company rep, 'to focus on celebrating the things that unite us versus those that divide us.')

"Randall Duell, an MGM art director and set designer, was hired to design the project, just as he later would the 1964 visitors' center at Universal Studios, Nashville's Opryland USA (1972-1997), and the thirty-three-acre MGM Grand Adventure (1993-2002) in Las Vegas. Six Flags was the first project under the banner of his own architecture firm.

"For Six Flags, Duell aimed for Hollywood realism -- such as making a souvenir shop look like an old hacienda by masking it with window shapes and props. One backlot technique he adapted was to use pathway curves and hills to keep distant views from spoiling the atmospher­ic effect of an immediate location, so that, for example, the Six Flags Missile Chaser scrambler ride could not be seen from the Indian Village. It was actually a technique H. C. Stilling had employed at Tivoli.

"Laid out in similar fashion as Disneyland's hub system, with its series of spoke-like walkways and a narrow-gauge railroad around them, Duell's Six Flags edifices were built to small scale (especially second stories), with the six different themed areas each defined by its own color palette.

"In all, after a year of formal planning, and another ten months for construction, by opening day, August 5, 1961, there were four­teen rides. The USA section was called Mod­ern, and had miniature automobiles and a petting zoo, as well as the AstroLift skyway. This led to the Texas cowboy town, with its saloon, jail, and goat ride. Elsewhere, the Confederacy section had a plantation and a mule-powered Little Dixie Carousel; Mexico, an Allan Herschell La Cucaracha Wild Mouse; France, a LaSalle's River Adventure; and Spain, Los Conquistadores Mule Pack Ride. The Skull Rock skulking over its tree slide -- and accessible by a Tom Sawyer-like river raft -- looks remarkably like Disney­land's.

The original logo for Six Flags over Texas

"Working closely with Wynne to bring Six Flags to fruition was the consulting company Marco Engineering, whose president had gone to great lengths to build a name for himself in the amusement industry: C. V. Wood.

"One of his earliest contributions to Six Flags over Texas was to purchase rides from the already defunct Magic Mountain in Colorado and move them to Texas.

"Otherwise, he divided his time between Arlington and the Bronx, for Freedom­land.

"With four hundred thousand customers required to break even its first season, attendance at Six Flags exceeded expectations: 8,374 people showed up on opening day, and 550,000 over the entire first season. Rather than rest on his laurels, Wynne accepted the offer personally extended by Vice President (and proud Texan) Lyndon B. Johnson, and state governor John Connally to head the Texas State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. After accepting, Wynne then extended the invita­tion to Randall Duell to design it.

"Both ended up stepping into a cow pie.

"In Wynne's estimation, one pavilion alone could not contain all that Texas had to offer, so seven buildings, themed very much like the six lands at Six Flags, were pre­pared for the three-acre site. The seventh housed a twenty-four-hundred-seat music hall, for a very unTexan To Broadway, with Love extravaganza, described as 'an anthol­ogy packed with the moods and music of the American theater from The Black Crook of 1864 to recent hits.'

No expense was spared, and no concept too outlandish, which explained why 'an enormous Brahman bull was kept corralled inside an elegant French bedroom, as being symbolic of the pampered lives that modern livestock supposedly live,' said one rec­ollection of the ill-fated Texas Pavilion. Wynne personally financed the venture and was forced into bankruptcy. Originally budgeted to cost $5 million, the project lost $100,000 a week and left Wynne with debts of $7 million, according to court filings.

"The fault lay in several directions: disappointing fair attendance, which flew in the face of Robert Moses's overly optimistic projections when he was steamrolling the fair into existence; the exhausting distance from the fair entrance to the Texas com­pound in the Flushing Meadows hinterlands; and a widely held bias against Texas in the aftermath of President Kennedy's murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963, only five months before the fair opened."



Stephen M. Silverman


The Amusement Park


Black Dog & Leventhal


Copyright 2019 by Stephen M. Silverman


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