Remembering Playland Park Where the Fun Began

Before there was a Sea World or Six Flags in San Antonio, an AstroWorld in Houston or a Six Flags Over Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there was a Playland Park.

It opened in 1943 on the corner of Broadway at 2222 Alamo Street near Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio Zoo.

Playland Park was owned and operated by Jimmy Johnson

At its debut in 1947, the Rocket was billed as “the largest roller coaster in the world”—all 3200 feet of track of it.

The ROCKET

This is how the Rocket’s ride was described after leaving the station:

🔹 makes a right turn out of the station into a pitch-black tunnel.

🔹exiting, the train ascends the 78-foot climb up the lift hill.

🔹a 72-foot first drop follows.

🔹rises up into the first of three turnarounds and crawls around it while unbanked.

🔹dives off the turnaround into two consecutive airtime hills, both providing decent airtime.

🔹 then rises into the second turnaround, turns around, and dives off the turnaround.

🔹now adjacent to the lift hill, the train enters a double-up followed immediately by a double-down, delivering three pops of great airtime.

🔹the final turnaround follows, located adjacent to the first.

🔹the infamous finale comes next, with four back-to-back bunny hills, each providing amazing airtime.

Cousins representing families of 4 of 5 children of Jack & Mildred Dennis. Circa 1972, left to right: Karen Hepworth, Jackie Dennis (me), Marvin Hepworth, Patti Sanders, Mike Dennis. Playland Park Fun House.

My cousin, Patti Sanders-Morales and I once rode the Rocket roller coaster so many times one evening that the attendant let us take a re-ride for free (saving us .25 cents each).

.

Creepy ‘Laughing Sally’ sprang out in the Fun House-Arcade area.

THE CAROUSEL

Owner Jimmy Johnson always made certain the carousel was spinning during open hours…even if there were no riders. It had four technicolor wooden horses to a row, 52 jumpers in all. Built as a traveling carousel, it could be broken down and packed away on wagons every night as the carnival moved from town to town. But from 1943 to 1980, the carousel didn’t budge from its spot at the front of the park on the corner of Broadway and Alamo. Chances were, as Johnson knew, any child walking past would see the ornate features in action and insist on at least one go-round. The carousel was built in 1917 by the C. W. Parker Amusement Company in Leavenworth, Kansas.

It’s believed Johnson moved the ride from Chicago to San Antonio around 1940. The story goes that a military officer from nearby Fort Sam Houston advised Johnson that Americans would likely be getting into a war. Knowing San Antonio, known as “Military City” (Randolph AFB, Kelly AFB, Lackland AFB, Brooks Army Base, Fort Sam Houston Army Base and Medina Military Base were all in the area), there would be many service members stationed nearby who would welcome some sort of entertainment. Johnson set up a penny arcade downtown across from the Empire Theatre. By 1943, he expanded his business into an amusement park called Playland Park.

At midnight, Labor Day 1980, Playland Park closed for good.

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