Success, Accidentally

August Around Town
Six Flags Over Texas has evolved dramatically over five-plus decades. One constant is the fact that people still love ton visit. (Photo: enwikipedia.org)

Say Happy Birthday to Six Flags Over Texas.

She’s 55. Doesn’t look half bad for her age.

At this point you’d expect some weariness, some detachment, some fatigue – a sense of monotony, even.

Not Six Flags. Not on Steve Martindale’s watch. As president, he’s picked up the mantra of those before him.

One generation goes. Another comes.

He enjoys talking with park goers just to hear what they like about this place. What they don’t like. What they would change. Keep.

Most seem to like the historical connection to Texas.

Makes sense. Six Flags itself is now the historical institution within itself, which is surprising to those who know that its tenure was suppose to be short.

It was, in some ways, Texas’ answer to Disneyland, if you believe the story about founder Angus G. Wynne, Jr. visiting Disney in California and wanting to Texas-fy a version for these parts. Wynne and Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff actually came up with the idea as a means to help pay for Wynne’s Great Southwest Industrial District infrastructure and projects.

Yeah, Six Flags was a means to another end. Plans were developed in 1959, with construction beginning in August 1960 and opening approximately a year later.

The price tag: $10 million.

It was an overnight sensation, so to speak, and the success shocked both Vandergriff and Wynne. For its “soft” grand opening, 8,374 visitors attended, wowed by things they had not seen before.

Well over a half million people would come through the Six Flags gates that first season, and not just packs of locals.

Word spread rapidly, and the park could list at least one visitor from each of the 50 states. Within a decade, the park had entertained 17.5 million visitors.

In many ways, Six Flags pioneered the “pay one price” model (as anyone who has been to Disney knows that once in, you still have to fork over lots of dollars), a single admission price paying for the rides and whatever the attractions were at the time.

Less than $3 got you into the park with parking priced at .50 cents.

As for its short-term goals, well, that changed. Attendance kept shattering previous records, and, before long, Six Flags had the distinctive smell of a permanent fixture. It helped that Wynne reportedly recouped his personal investment of $3.5 million within the first 18 months.

Park goers love its attractions (it was the first park to feature log flume and mine train rides and later, the first 360-degree looping roller coaster, modern parachute drop and man-made river rapids ride).

Likewise, the concept won hearts. The six flags originated to represent the six nations that have governed Texas during its history, including Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States, and the Confederate States of America.

Wynne would expand the concept with Six Flags Over Georgia and later sold the park to Six Flags Over Texas Fund Ltd., a limited partnership with Jack Knox.

Other owners followed. Time Warner was one (bringing in a new era and the licensing of Warner Brothers and DC Comics characters such as Mr. Freeze and Batman the Ride), and Premier Parks is the other. That entity purchased the park in 1998 for $1.86 billon.

Now under Six Flags Entertainment Corp, the park has improved in attendance and profitability.

What hasn’t changed? Innovation. Creativity. Wisdom in keeping a family park for families. Just last year they expanded the Gotham City section of the park with new rides Catwoman Whip and The Riddler Revenge. Thousands attend each day.

Not bad for a park that wasn’t even expected to last.

Kenneth Perkins

Columnist Kenneth Perkins has been a contributing writer for Arlington Today since it debuted. He is a freelance writer, editor and photographer.