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The Salvato Family Collection - Visit to Aquarena Springs

Dixie Salvato Flint

Silent | 1950s

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  •  Submarine Theater 
  •  Aquamaid performance 
  •  Feeding the fish 
 
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  • The Salvato Family The Salvato Family
  • Aquarena Springs Aquarena Springs
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This 1950s home movie shows Dixie and her brother Jimmy Salvato visiting the Aquarena Springs amusement park in San Marcos. The main attraction, the Submarine Underwater Theater, comprises the majority of the film. A young woman, known as an aquamaid, swims underwater amongst fish and ducks as the audience watches through glass windows. She breathes through an air hose, has an underwater picnic, and performs synchronized swimming routines.
The Salvato family played an integral role in the early development and community of Dickinson, located about 20 miles northeast of Galveston. Peter Salvato, born in June of 1911 to Joseph B. Salvato Sr. and Dominica Cucchia, frequently appears in this collection of home movies with his young children, Dixie and Jimmy. He had seven other siblings, including Joe, Sam, Mike, Tony, Lena, Katy, and Sister Mary Henry. 
 
Peter, Mike, and Joe Salvato operated numerous night clubs in Dickinson. They partnered with Anthony J. and Victor J. Fertita, another notable business family, on the Cedar Oaks Club. They also worked with Sam and Carlos Emmite on the Dickinson Social Club, located on Farm to Market Road 517.
 
Besides night clubs, Peter Salvato owned and operated other businesses, such as auto shops, service stations and restaurants. One of his operations seen throughout this collection of home videos is the Ritz Motel and Cafe. The Salvato children often spent time swimming in the pool, while the adults sat and lounged on the patio. 
 
In 1957, State Attorney General Will Wilson began a massive campaign of raids in Galveston County, ultimately closing around 47 night clubs, casinos, and brothels for illegal activity. Galveston and its surrounding cities had become known as the Free State of Galveston during the 1920s due to the prevalence of vice-oriented businesses and lax law enforcement. Venues across the county, including the Cedar Oaks Club and Dickinson Social Club, lost their licenses for violating gambling and liquor laws. The move effectively ended the Free State of Galveston, gravely impacting the city’s tourism industry. 
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.