July 12, 2007

As someone who's spent a few hours in the past couple of years photographing the demolition of various local landmarks, I can totally relate to this guy.

Every March for almost 30 years, David Purdie waited in the same line at the same supermarket on West Gray to buy an AstroWorld season pass.

In 1978, the laminated tickets promising limitless fun from March through October cost just $20. Purdie, then 13, and his best friend mowed lawns in the Houston heat, sold Kool-Aid and comic books, and spent their profits on the passes. Prices rose steadily, but the two friends continued to go back year after year, finally paying $52 in 2005.

Then Purdie heard the unimaginable - AstroWorld would close forever.

With the stomach-churning suddenness of a Texas Cyclone plunge, Purdie decided he had to preserve the memory of his favorite getaway. He purchased a home-video camera and started shooting. Two years later, he's ready to share the results with likely thousands of Houstonians who fondly recall the old South Loop amusement park

"I knew that if it was true, that in the end AstroWorld was gone, I was going to want to have footage for myself to keep and cherish forever," said Purdie.

He returned to the park every weekend in October 2005, filming everything -- the drive down Kirby, the footbridge hike over the Loop and the entire walk around the park.


A week after the park closed for good, Purdie persuaded a friend to go back with him.

"I get there and I can see clearly that they started disassembling the Dungeon Drop. You could tell from the freeway, so I got out and started filming, and I got all excited and sad at the same time," he said. "I went back later that day. I went back the next day and the next day and the next day."

Purdie, a waiter at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen, went back almost every day for seven months. He filmed mostly from the sidewalk and in a given day would stand outside the gates for 30 minutes or eight hours.


Purdie has now pared some of his favorite AstroWorld footage into a three-minute short, AstroWhirled. He offered it to a Houston short-film festival.

"It was a good opportunity for me to play with my footage, and it might be a good way to get my feet wet," he said.

But Purdie's film didn't make the festival's cut, so he's trying to get the River Oaks Theatre to run it Saturday, before the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (At press time, theater officials were not sure they would use it.)

In the short film, Purdie falls asleep dreaming of going to AstroWorld. But when he gets there, it's being torn up.

"And I wake up and it's jut a dream, but of course it wasn't," he said.

The film shows a blur of children running through the park. It features the unmistakable clank of a roller-coaster car making its way up the wooden track. Then it cuts dramatically to a shot of the coaster being smashed by a giant backhoe.

The story link has the video as well. The described scene, cutting from the roller coaster to its demolition, was easily the strongest bit. The rest of it was okay but unfocused. I figure given all the footage he shot, a good editor could probably tease a nice short documentary out of it. I hope someone steps up to help him with it, because I think it would make for a worthwhile preservation project. Take a look at the clip and see what you think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 12, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston