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The Patricia Strait Collection - Austin Co-op and Aquarena Springs

Patricia Strait

Silent | 1970s

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TAMI Tags
  •  Parents ready play equipment 
  •  View of Aquarena Springs from the Swiss Sky Ride 
  •  Glass-bottomed boats on Spring Lake 
  •  Submarine theater 
 
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This 1970s home movie captures the Strait family children playing with others at the Austin Co-op. A group of local parents founded the facility in 1953 with the purpose of providing a racially integrated learning environment for the children. Still in operation today, the Co-op is now formally known as the All Austin Cooperative Nursery School. In the footage, children ride tricycles while some of the parents work to ready a playground area. Later, the Strait family visits the Aquarena Springs amusement park in San Marcos.
Opening in 1951, Aquarena Springs was a resort and amusement park located on Spring Lake in San Marcos. Attractions included glass-bottom boat tours, a sky ride, and a submarine theater. (For the latter, the audience partially descended into the water to see a performance by the “Aquamaids,” young women wearing mermaid tails who stayed underwater by sipping from air hoses.) Arguably the most popular attraction was Ralph the Swimming Pig, who began each show by taking a “swine dive” into the lake to drink from a milk bottle held by a trainer. At its peak, Aquarena Springs attracted 250,000 visitors annually, remaining a popular tourist destination from the 1960s through the 1980s. 
 
Texas State University purchased the property in 1994, initially planning to update the theme park and use it to underwrite academic research. Dwindling attendance and surging costs, however, made operating the park—then known as the Aquarena Center—impossible. Ralph made his final performance in February 1996. Texas State ultimately tore down most the facility to return Aquarena Springs to its original condition. (The area is one of the oldest continually inhabited locations on the continent.) What remained eventually became the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, an educational center dedicated to water research. The center still conducts glass-bottomed boat tours.