Announced as closing permanently last fall, Joyland Amusement Park in Lubbock, Texas, quickly appeared to receive a new lease on life. The family-owned park had found last-minute buyers eager to keep the park open. But, unfortunately, that's wasn't the case after all.
Joyland owners David and Kristi Dean had announced the park would close and not reopen following the park's 2022 season. There were personal concerns due to health, issues with finding enough staff to successfully run the park post-pandemic, and problems due to area flooding and vandalism. Vandals had even attacked the park after hours on its 50th birthday celebration.
But, just in the nick of time, local business owners Jim and Kai Evans and Darryl and Stephanie Holland stepped up to purchase the business with the Deans agreeing to stay on, serving as consultants for the first year of operation to facilitate an easy transition.
But come the new year, the deal to save the business has fallen through, and liquidation of the park's assets will follow.
Joyland was a fixture in the area for more than 50 years. The Deans have expressed great disappointment in the imminent loss of the park, and the prospective buyers are disappointed, too. According to Kai Evans, the foursome of purchasers had simply encountered too many obstacles to take over. They included, she said, “the inability to obtain specialized insurance, vandalism during the offseason, dwindling experienced carryover staff, the fast-approaching spring operating season…”
Originally, Evans and her team had hoped to upgrade the park with a splash pad attraction and more interactive elements.
Owner David Dean calls the turn of events heartbreaking. But aside from Evans' aforementioned concerns, the park also does not own its own land, the city of Lubbock does, and leases the space to the operators. Drainage is poor in the park, and flooding can occur during rainy seasons. Anyone operating the park would either have to address that issue themselves – an expensive proposition – or wait for the city to act. Either scenario would be difficult for new owners to endure.
The park will be selling the big equipment such as its rides first, the Deans say, including its three roller coasters, all family attractions. The largest of these is the Galaxi, which was originally purchased in the 1990s. Among the park's other rides, there is a Reverchon flume, a 1902 C.W. Parker carousel, and a train ride created by the Miniature Train Co. The park's most recently purchased attractions include a Wisdom Dream Wagon, a Extreme pendulum ride, and a Cavazza Diego Blizzard roller coaster. All are up for sale. The Deans say that about a third of the attractions have already been spoken for with deposits in place. Most are remaining within the state of Texas. Some of the ride purchasers are people who are not part of an established theme park but are making a change into the world of amusement rides, the Deans report. IRM Rides is the company handling the sale of the park's attractions.
Some may be more difficult to sell that others, such as the Hopkins sky ride, permanently installed to run down the center of the park's midway. The family will donate the park's iconic entrance sign to the Roller Coaster Museum and Archives in Plainview, Texas. However, the Deans will keep a few smaller items for themselves, including a wooden carousel horse, and Joyland flags.
The park has withstood difficult times over the years, including the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Its dogged survival made the decision to close the park even more agonizing, the Deans say. But beset by problems, operation simply became too difficult for them to continue. Announcing the closure in a letter, they wrote “Never forget the importance of having fun, for the greatest legacies we can leave are happy memories.”
The Deans acquired the park in 1973. Previously called the Mackenzie Park Playgrounds, the
land was first leased to businessman Sam Caplan and his wife in 1956; he relinquished the lease to William H. “Bill” Plummer in 1971, who operated the park for just a few years, but stayed with it for a year as the Dean family took over.
At that time, the park only had 13 rides and relied on sheep for grounds maintenance. David Dean's father Jimmy improved the park's appearance and accelerated the park's growth, adding rides and renaming the attraction Joyland Amusement Park. The park had about 30 rides when it closed last year. Dean says that the park would try to add some new features or attractions every year to draw visitors. Financial restrictions alone kept him from adding even more rides and thematic elements to the park over the years.
Many of the items that the family added to the park have history, such as a lion-shaped water fountain that belonged to a mini-golf attraction that was going out of business; a turtle statue; toy soldiers standing guard at the plane ride. These items, like the rides, will also be sold, and are listed as available thematic scenery. Also for sale: arcade equipment, back-of-house food service items, office items and furnishings.
While the 11th hour rescue is not to be after all, even as the park's assets are sold off, the memories remain, a part of Lubbock's history. Before they shutter the park for good at the end of 2023, the Deans are planning a reunion event for past employees to share their farewell.
With mega theme parks now the order of the day, from Six Flags to Disney to Universal, small family-owned amusement locations like Joyland may someday entirely become a thing of the past. Certainly, the day has finally come for the spunky Lubbock park to remain only a community memory.