Abandoned Six Flags in New Orleans

I met fellow explorers Mike Rosati and Minda Vermazen for the first time in the Las Vegas Airport, en route to New Orleans to photograph the abandoned Six Flags Theme Park that closed when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. We read online that the park was being dismantled and sold for scrap beginning in January 2011, so with little time to spare, we hastily made plans to visit during the first week of December 2010. Our plane landed around midnight, and we drove straight to the park on a cursory scouting mission. We took a couple night shots from outside the park, made a plan, then headed to the hotel for some rest.

Six Flags photo

Gaining Access

The next day, we spent 10 hours documenting and exploring the park. Mike dropped Minda and me and our gear off, then parked the car in an adjacent neighborhood that is still littered with abandoned homes in the aftermath of the hurricane and flooding.

We entered through a hole in a barbed-wire fence along a main thoroughfare, right next to a Six Flags sign that still reads “Closed for Storm” a full five plus years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. Weeds and grasses were sprouting in the vast, empty parking lot, crumbling the pavement as nature begins its first steps to reclaim the amusement park.

Six Flags photo

As we approached a heavily vandalized attendant’s booth, I noticed fading roller coasters, derelict rides and concession buildings on the horizon. We continued across the parking lot to the ticket booths and park entrance. Right away, I saw indications of the extent of flooding at the park: the iron gate was rusted to a height of approximately four feet after being submerged underwater for a month following the storm.

As we entered through a toppled section of the gate, the place felt like a ghost town. The ticket booths were empty, but signs and notes were still tacked to the walls. A nearby office was filled with computers and monitors stained by receded flood waters. Discarded toy prizes and stuffed animals were scattered around. The entry plaza featured French Quarter style buildings lining the former “Main Street” that led visitors to the park’s attractions. As I passed by the buildings, it reminded me of walking down a deserted street in an actual abandoned town.

Six Flags photo

History and Geography

Jazzland Theme Park, located in Eastern New Orleans, opened in 2000 with a Louisiana theme. Although the park did well in its first season, within a couple years the city had taken over the property after dwindling visitor numbers forced the company into bankruptcy. In 2002, Six Flags leased the property from the city, making improvements and adding new rides before reopening in 2003. The park was profitable during its first two seasons, but success would be short-lived. Toward the end of the 2005 season, the park was forced to shut down as Hurricane Katrina approached from the Gulf of Mexico. Six Flags New Orleans closed on August 27 in preparation for the storm and never reopened.

Six Flags photo

The park is situated in a low-lying area surrounded by a 6-foot flood berm within the Ninth Ward, one of the most heavily damaged regions of the city. When drainage pumps failed during the storm and the earthen berm subsequently burst, the artificial basin filled with brackish floodwater, a combination of rainwater and seawater overflow from Katrina’s immense storm surge. The entire grounds were submerged under four to seven feet of corrosive water for more than a month, damaging most of the rides beyond repair. Six Flags, Inc. declared the park a total loss in July 2006, with no desire to rebuild.

Exploring the Park

Except for Batman: The Ride and a couple other rides that were removed and relocated to other Six Flags locations, the park sits in a state of arrested decay just like the day it closed over five years ago. These days pools are overgrown with moss and muck. Ceiling fans droop toward the ground like claws. Sidewalks where eager riders lined up for their next adventure are barely navigable in some instances. At The Jester and Mega Zeph roller coasters, walkways are completely overgrown with grasses, shrubs, and other wild plants. The high water mark is still visible on various buildings and signs.

Six Flags photo

Decorative palm trees still line the walking paths, now covered by shrubs in their vases. Ironically, the pathways that shuttled visitors to their next ride had waves of water painted on them to lead the way.

As night began to fall, the park took on a spooky feeling. A place once defined by twirling rides, laughter, screaming kids and sparkling light displays was completely silent and dark. Everything was in a standstill, except for wind tattered shade coverings and the Zydeco Zinger ride swings blowing gently in the breeze.

Six Flags photo Six Flags photo

Before leaving, we climbed to the top of the wooden roller coaster, which was built on a steel frame to withstand hurricane-force winds. Climbing the stairs was a surreal experience that was familiar, yet new and exciting. As opposed to zooming by in a train seated next to strangers, I hiked up at my own pace. As I ascended, I looked down on the abandoned park and out to the horizon along the Interstate, enjoying the view. It was windy and cold at the top, so I only snapped a couple pictures before climbing back down and leaving the park. Although the coaster’s reinforced frame did successfully protect it from the storm’s winds, the ride couldn’t survive the corrosive floodwaters and will have to be scrapped.

Six Flags photo

The Future

After three years of negotiations, Six Flags finally came to an agreement with the city of New Orleans to terminate its 75 year lease in 2009, after operating the park for only 2 1/2 seasons. The city took over responsibility for the property following the agreement. Also in 2009, Six Flags removed the New Orleans’ page from its web site, signaling the inevitable demise of the park that had been obvious years earlier when Six Flags began attempting to get out of their lease. Still, just prior to being removed, the web page continued to claim that “Six Flags is still in the process of settling claims with its insurers due to substantial damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. As a result, Six Flags New Orleans will remain closed at this time. We know that it is still a difficult time for the residents of New Orleans, and we remain committed to working with the city in support of the recovery efforts.”

In January 2011, Southern Star Amusement Inc. announced its current plan to redevelop the park. During Phase One, the company plans to rebuild using the existing footprint and infrastructure and revert the park back to its original Louisiana theme. Future plans include “quickly” adding a water park during Phase Two, and adding other amenities such as retail shops, a hotel, a sports complex, and even a movie studio/film set in Phase Three.

This is the same company that backed out of plans to restore and expand the park in 2008 as “Legend City Adventure Park.” Then in 2009, they announced plans redevelop the park with a Nickelodeon-branded theme which fell through when bonds failed to materialize.

Wrapping Up

I was surprised and sobered to see first hand the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Even five years later, abandoned homes, schools, and other buildings are commonplace. I got the feeling that flood insurance dictated who rebuilt and who fled. On a positive note, the French Quarter is thriving with energy, tourists, and even new restaurants, hopefully signaling the continued revival of a great city.

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47 Responses to Abandoned Six Flags in New Orleans

  1. Tracy said on 

    This was as entertaining to read as the pictures were amazing! Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Andy Frazer said on 

    Great job, Scott. It looks like it was a wonderful experience out there. I really love the shot from the top of the roller coaster.

    -Andy

  3. Paul N said on 

    Neato. I also think the top-of-the-coaster shot is really cool – it’s impossible to look at the picture without thinking about you standing there.

  4. Wilky said on 

    Great stuff as always Scott. Your shot of the Bus and RV entrance sign is surreal.

  5. Manny said on 

    Some of my friends and I went into the park a few years ago, it was amazing in there. the mannequins were still standing everywhere, which really kinda creeped us out. I expected the lost boys from hook to pop out at any second. We were chased off eventually being private property and all.

  6. xixerone said on 

    Congratulations, I’m completely speechless!

  7. andy said on 

    Love the angels you have on these shots. Seems more like 35 than 5 years though. Weeds grow fast!

  8. andy said on 

    …er, angLEs I mean… ;)

  9. jack said on 

    So, if Six Flags just walked away from their 75 year lease (presuming they paid something to get out of it), some thoughts come to mind. Does this mean that they didn’t have adequate insurance for disasters? And if not, what does that say for their insurance for (oh, say) another kind of accident involving a roller coaster? Understandably, their client base has left the area, but it sure does make me wonder.

  10. Wes said on 

    Damn you, Katrina!

  11. Joan said on 

    Wow. I am a victim of Katrina myself . (Biloxi) Your rendition hit my heart . I am familiar with the Park and what it could have been. I think you story struck me so deeply because it reminds me of our loss. Katrina destroyed the home that I grew up in. I raised my children there as well. August 28, 2005 there were over 60 homes in our neighborhood. All were completely “slabbed.” We rebuilt in the same spot immediately. We just assumed all of our neighbors would follow suit. Sadly, there are still are only 8 homes in my neighborhood to this day. (I guess twice was too much for some, we lost our home in the same location in Hurricane Camille in 1969.) vacant lots and over grown shrubs where my neighbors once lived. Back to your story.. Thank you sharing your photos kand emotions. As you described the saddness and desolation of what once a place of fun and memories, so was (is) my neighborhood. You described my emotions perfectly.

  12. Jim said on 

    Somebody should film a zombie movie there.

  13. Seattle Dredge said on 

    Wow, this is pretty amazing. That last shot is great! I couldn’t ever climb up there like that.. haha

  14. Awesome photos! Abandoned theme parks are really scary I think… but they’re great for photo opportunities! ;)

  15. Chelcie Marie said on 

    Did you have permission to go here? I’m a photographer and photo journalist. I’m from the New Orleans area and this would be am unbelievably surreal experience.

    • Scott Haefner said on 

      We did not have permission to shoot the abandoned park, but it was pretty low-key at the time. I’ve heard that security has been stepped up since we were there, but I’m not certain.

      • Sigurbjörn said on 

        I find it strange that there is security in an abandoned facility. I am not from the US and don´t live there either. Great photos by the way.

  16. Gregory said on 

    Oh, man … the photo of that big clown will haunt my dreams tonight!

  17. Tone said on 

    I don’t have words to describe the feelings generated by viewing these literally awesome photos (along with the SanFran Naval Ship photos). Thank you so much for sharing your vision & art. Cheers!

  18. Kevin said on 

    Great story and pictures, seeing the first photo of the coasters from a distance really caught my eye, this story almost gives you a glimpse into the events and changes when people are no longer there to maintain. A park that use to see thousands every year, suddenly becomes abandon. Favorite pic is the one atop the wooden coaster.

    P.S. are any of these photos for sale?

  19. Bill Welp said on 

    Scott, Kind of sad for me, we lived in SLidell when the park first opened…have many fond memories riding the wooden coaster with my kids….glad we moved out of NOLA is 2002…pre-Katrina! Thanks for the cool pics!

  20. Wendy said on 

    Looking at these pictures hit me hard. I’m from nola and we use to have the season passes to go there, I still have them and my park id. It was my family’s favorite place to go! You captured some greats photo’s Scott!

  21. Nicole said on 

    Wow these photos are amazing! I wish they wouldn’t have shut that place down, it looked in good shape. That makes me sad. Why did they shut down Six Flags? :(

  22. Nicole said on 

    Actually scott, if you want more people to purchase your images. I would disable the copy and paste, because you can just copy and paste an image to something and print it off. No charge

    You do a great job at taking pictures! Keep it up!

  23. Nicole said on 

    Dear Scott, You are doing and marvelous job, one question though. How did you get on the top of the rollercoaster? Did it still work? Or did you have a tough time climbing up? Please reply!!!! Your biggest fan~Nicole!

    • Nathan said on 

      I’m not that guy but there is stars on the sides of the tracks so you can walk up.

  24. Nathan said on 

    I hate to see this place do nothing. But I did here roomers that they are talking about getting the place back up and running. I saw a video of them testing out the rides. They still work but are unsafe and may need a little tune up.

  25. amanda said on 

    im so obseesed with abandoned stuff and this by far is the most crazy and interesting i think ive seen every video of this place i woull LOVE to see in person sooo bad thats like my dream crazy but true. however it is still very sad it seems liek such a waste of rides if i was a millionaire id love to rebuild it ,im on the west coast so chances of ever making it there are slim so keep the pics there amazing!

  26. ash said on 

    I just went there and photographed the place. It was gorgeous.. I couldn’t climb up the same rollercoaster you did. I believe I climbed up the sky blue one (can’t remember the name of it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/seventreehouses/6310643509/in/photostream/) and didn’t make it all the way to the top before my legs got tight. I’m scared of heights. I loved this post.

  27. frank ventre said on 

    I would like to buy some of the rides in the park. Who can i talk to and a number to call would help. I know rides and can restore back to a safe working order. Please get back to me….

  28. Jeff Foster said on 

    Love your photos of this amusement park! Though I’ve never been there before I recognized many of the locations – especially the rollercoaster, since I spent about 4 months last year working on some green screen and VFX for a scene in a feature film that was shot on location there (“The Courier”). I did over 60 shots that had to look like a ransom/rescue scene from the top of that coaster. I’ve got a few shots on one of my demo reels here: http://vimeo.com/26314350

    Thanks again – I wondered what the rest of the park looked like!

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  29. Arnette Overfelt said on 

    That’s a fantastic post, done well. I believe I would create my personal weblog way too.

  30. kieran said on 

    do u know what is happening to the six flags site i would buy it if i had the money

  31. LOL said on 

    i loved these pictures but, i have bad news.The park was torn down in 2011 :( SORRY GUYS!

    • Ashley said on 

      Actually it’s not torn down. I drive by it everyday and it is most definitely there. SORRY!

      • Raul said on 

        Hey Ashley! Just wondering – it’s now Jan 2013. Is the Six Flags ruins still there to check out?

        • Andre said on 

          Hey Raul, I don’t know whether you will see this or not but I can answer your question to Ashley. The Six Flags is still there, however now with the film industry being so big in New Orleans the grounds are used by production companies to film movies. One movie filmed in the park was “The Courier” which released in 2012. Hope that was a help to you.

  32. Rena said on 

    I stumbled upon this page and am thrilled I did. Thoroughly enjoyed the engaging text and magnetic photos. It’s strange to see such amusement park machinery and mechanics that aren’t that old, just wasting away. Thanks, and may be back to purchase a print for a gift.

  33. Shelby said on 

    Some of my hobbies include studying storms and storm damage. I also enjoy studying abandoned places, such as Chernobyl and American ghost towns.I love visiting theme parks. Your pictures had all three themes. I’ve never seen anything like it. I am hooked!

    The Six Flags sign for RVs and buses really made my skin crawl.

    Thank you for sharing this story in pictures and words!

  34. Tilden Oney said on 

    Seen this on youtube an wondered what they were doing with the park. Thanks for the information.

  35. Trevor Taylor said on 

    A fellow photographer and I made it out to the park in August 2013. It is still up and no signs of dismantling the park. It is cool to see the difference three plus years have made in the decay of the park (the time since these photos were taken).

  36. Jimpy said on 

    I was in New Orleans last week with a friend finishing off our road-trip which started in Texas for the Formula 1 race. We went to this park to take some photo’s and make a video. Even though it seemed totally deserted, about half way around we were shot at! We started to run and the shots rained down on us, semi auto pop pop pop which got closer as we ran towards the entrance we had come in through. We then ran across the huge car park to where we had left the car by a back entrance, which is pretty much wide open other than a concrete barrier to stop cars. It was a crazy experience! Running for our lives was something I wouldn’t wish to do again so just be VERY CAREFUL if you venture to this place as someone doesn’t want people in there…! We did get a few pictures and a bit of a video before it all kicked off…