Everything we see today in Arlington’s remarkable entertainment district may never have come to be except for a real estate developer looking for a solution to a problem.
Angus Wynne, Jr.’s vision upon the completion of the DFW Turnpike in 1957 was that of imagining Dallas and Fort Worth growing together and meeting at the halfway point in a growing Arlington.
His plan was to build an expansive industrial park in that path, and he began doing just that when the project, seemingly ahead of its time, faltered.
Instead of giving up his dream, he came up with the idea of creating a small Disneyesque family entertainment center he hoped would produce some badly needed cash flow.
Maybe, the story is told, he would operate the attractions for a few years then recover the land for more offices and warehouses as the industrial park he had begun enjoyed greater success.
Instead, from its humble beginnings in 1961, he had launched an entirely new industry, and this year we get to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Six Flags Over Texas – a company that now operates 16 parks across the country and around the world.
There are a great many accounts of young people meeting their future spouses while both were working at the park in its earliest years. Here’s just a couple:
Steve Martindale, the recently retired chief executive of the Six Flags corporation, described his and his wife’s own story: “We did, indeed meet in 1977 while working in the rides department. When I first asked her to go out with me, she declined. I persisted, and she finally agreed, and we dated for six years straight before we married in 1983. We were very young when we started out; Paula was 17, and I was 19.”
New York Times best-selling author Sandra Brown met Michael when they were college students during rehearsals in the Southern Palace show in the park.
“After the first day of rehearsal,” Sandra reminiscences, “I went home and told my family, ‘I met my husband today.’”
The first time my wife and I discovered Arlington was on our wedding trip in 1964. Our honeymoon destination was Six Flags. Two years later, we moved here and made the city our permanent home.
One day in the early 1990s during a city council work session we got to talking about our early experiences at Six Flags Over Texas and discovered that three of my council colleagues were working at the park in those early days of my family’s visits to the park.
It is entirely likely that Bill Snider, Marti VanRavenswaay, and Kelly Jones and I crossed paths at the park when Sylvia and I were taking our little son Brian, who would, one day as a teenager, run the sound for the Crazy Horse Saloon.
I imagined them opening the door to the Astro Lift, or helping us onto La Salle’s River Ride, or discovering the Spee-Lunkers or serving us at the Colonel’s Café or helping us find a seat in the Southern Palace.
The fold-out map to guide us through the park we had in our hands at the time was designed by Dick Malec.
None of us would have imagined that one day we all would be serving on the city council together.
Today, tourism is Arlington’s largest economy. First launched by Wynne’s effort to shore up his fledgling industrial park with the little entertainment complex, it has soared to unexpected heights.
Six Flags’ success made it possible for former mayor Tom Vandergriff to point out to the barons of Major League Baseball how Arlington had the ability to attract crowds from all over North Texas and beyond.
I know it’s a cliché, but this really fits: The rest is history.
There are countless stories like these still being made and millions of people to share them. All of us would join together and say, Happy Anniversary, Six Flags. We love you!