Despite the fact that she’d just made $5,200 on a hunk of metal, Maria Medeles was in tears the day it was auctioned off. Of course, it was no ordinary hunk of metal, but a rare, highly collectible piece of Houston history in mint condition: the official Greezed Lightnin’ roller coaster entrance sign from AstroWorld.
For years the relic from the beloved bygone amusement park, which shuttered in 2005 after 37 years of fun, had hung in Medeles’s own living room. “I saw it every day,” she said a few weeks after it had been hauled away. “When Greezed Lightnin’ sold, that hurt.”
In February, with help from Houston-based SITE Auction Services, Medeles offered the sign as well as some 700 other items—everything from “no smoking” signs to an AstroWheel car—to a few hundred enthusiastic in-person and online bidders. The now-closed catalogue shows that altogether, the items went for close to $130,000. And that isn’t even half of Medeles’s AstroWorld loot. She still has warehouses full of stuff, and she’s preparing for a second auction next month.
So why did the spunky, Mexico-born Houston businesswoman decide to sell off her collection? The money’s nice, of course. Also, Medeles has decided it’s time to downsize, “because my lifestyle is changing,” she said. She’ll turn 70 this summer, and she’s sold three of her five nightclubs. (The properties she kept, including Magnolia Gardens Park and Emiliano’s Wayside Sports Bar in the East End, are home to some of the memorabilia she can’t bear to part with.)
But most of all, Medeles says, she simply wanted to share these coveted pieces of Houston history. “What good does it do anyone being stuck in a warehouse?” she said, adding that the woman who bought the Greezed Lightnin’ sign was planning to use it as a centerpiece at her wedding. “It hurts, but I wanted other people to enjoy it.”
Medeles couldn’t have picked a better time to sell. Last summer rapper and Missouri City native Travis Scott not only released his huge, Grammy-nominated third studio album, ASTROWORLD, but also put out AstroWorld-themed merch and embarked on a national tour complete with onstage roller coasters—all of which heightened interest among both fans across the country and Houstonians who, like Scott, would happily ride the Texas Cyclone into eternity.
Medeles’s daughter Veronica Trevino-Ruiz is among the latter group. “I feel what he felt,” Trevino-Ruiz said of Scott. “For me, this was personal.”
Trevino-Ruiz was 10 the first time she saw AstroWorld, its loop-de-loops beckoning from the highway as she rode in the car with Medeles. Born in Brownsville, Trevino-Ruiz was finally moving to “the big city,” she remembered, and AstroWorld was the cherry on top. “It was just wonderful,” she said, recalling the thrill of going zero to 60 mph in seconds on her very favorite ride, Greezed Lightnin’. “I even get goosebumps talking about it.”
Trevino-Ruiz was devastated when the park closed. “I was like, ‘you’re gonna have to bulldoze me with it,’” she remembered.
If she couldn’t self-sacrifice, she could at least get a keepsake. In 2005, then a new teacher who couldn’t get off work, Trevino-Ruiz dispatched Medeles to the park’s liquidation sale. “I said, ‘Mom, I need you to go. I don’t care what I get.’” She’d hoped for maybe a bench, if not a piece of her beloved roller coaster.
To her surprise, her mom returned with that and then some.
“I got 20 benches,” Medeles later recalled. “I got everything from the waterpark. I got wood from the Texas Cyclone and Greezed Lightnin’. I have thousands of cups and keychains and everything that was in the store, all the souvenirs. I have all of AstroWorld at my house.”
Before the first auction, Scott himself got word of Medeles’s treasure trove and bought the theme park’s main entrance sign. Word was he wanted to hang it in his house. Other bidders had similar plans. An enthusiast nabbed the Batman The Escape entrance sign for $3,200 and told Medeles he was going to build a man cave around it. A couple said they would install their new 10-foot Looney Tunes figurines at their country house. A woman bought a souvenir mug emblazoned with her deceased mother’s name, thanking Medeles through tears for reviving cherished childhood memories.
Medeles and Trevino-Ruiz, by the way, said they planned to keep some of their favorite pieces for themselves. The candy-colored gondola cars surrounding Trevino-Ruiz’s pool, for example, will stay.
“My husband’s like, ‘when are you getting rid of all that crap?’” she said, staring lovingly at a photo of her backyard on her phone. “Never. Never, ever, ever. I’m hanging on to it forever.”
Medeles’s next sale takes place June 8. Keep an eye on siteauctionservices.com for details.