Houston's forgotten theme park: Busch Gardens
Updated: Mar 30
When Houstonians wax nostalgic over lost theme parks and attractions in Houston, they inevitably bring up AstroWorld (and to a lesser extent, Peppermint Park). Of course, so many of us have fond memories of the home of the Texas Cyclone and Greezed Lightin', that entire blocks of our collective childhoods are based around it. But many may or may not remember another outdoor attraction: Busch Gardens. Built by Anheuser-Busch Corp., adjacent to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and east of downtown Houston at 775 Gellhorn, the park was a huge undertaking at the time. It opened on Memorial Day weekend, 1971 to a great deal of media coverage.
The $12 million park featured everything from a petting zoo, exotic birds, to polar bears, penguins and sea lions to a guided boat tour that weaved through the majority of its 40 acres, past a nearly 1,000 seat outdoor amphitheater. It was a sort of an amalgam of the Houston Zoo, crossed with AstroWorld, crossed with Sea-Arama on Galveston Isle. After the initial hype had passed, Houstonians showed less and less enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the park closed just a few years after it opened, failing to reach its target attendance numbers.
It was a great idea, at least on paper. Would Busch Gardens survive in 2023? More than likely it would. At least it wouldn't have AstroWorld (or Sea-Arama) to compete with.
For whatever reason(s), Houston doesn't cultivate theme parks too well. All that's left of AstroWorld is a large, empty lot and the pedestrian bridge that still crosses over the 610 loop. Where Busch Gardens once stood is now just the Budweiser plant and parking lots. There's no sign that trained parrots once entertained parents and kids alike in that same location. Florida's Tampa Bay, FL - Busch Gardens has soldiered on over the decades, for what that's worth. Maybe Houston will someday have a permanent theme park. It hasn't been for lack of trying.
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