Houston 101

Father and Son's Photos Remind Us of Houston's Beloved AstroWorld

Across the freeway from NRG Park with its gleaming stadium and crumbling Astrodome lies a field of dirt. From almost 40 years, that empty lot made children’s dreams come true, gave teens a chance to see concerts and saddled adults with hot, crying toddlers. That place was called AstroWorld.

For anyone who grew up here, it was where you wanted to be as often as possible, riding the Texas Cyclone, seeing a band at Southern Star Amphitheater or flirting with other teens at Waterworld. We played games. We rode rides. And some of us took pictures.

“In 1956, dad turned 21 and got a camera,” explains Josh Burdick, describing his father, Cecil's interest in photography. Fortunately for us, the elder Burdick carried his camera to AstroWorld in 1968, its first summer (Josh believes the photos in the slideshow may have been taken the very month the park opened). After discovering box after box of slides at his parents’ home, Josh spent three to four hours a night over several months scanning and digitizing hundreds of photos, including the shots seen here of the beloved Houston theme park.

“I got a season pass in ’85 or ’86 and went four or five times a summer,” Josh, 42, told the Houston Press. In 1989, like his father before him, he brought his own camera and captured some images of his own.

The two sets of photos give a glimpse inside the iconic theme park two decades apart. The clothing is a dead giveaway, but so are some of the rides — no Texas Cyclone or Waterworld in 1967. Yet, shots from the skyway tram remind us that the Astrodome was once a pretty amazing stadium and the smiling faces around the park are proof that kids are kids regardless of the era.

Unfortunately, all that is left is that empty field and the memories Burdick and his father captured on film. “I drive past it just about every week,” he says. “I thought it was always going to be there.”

See a slideshow of Burdick's amazing photographs here.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke