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The Astrodome

The Astrodome was the first of its kind domed sports stadium. It is located in Houston, and is now part of the Reliant Park complex. It opened in 1965 as Harris County Domed Stadium and was nicknamed the "Eighth Wonder of the World". (A team owner is quoted as saying that the "rent for the Astrodome was the ninth".) Reliant Energy purchased naming rights to the building in 2000.

Major League Baseball expanded to Houston in 1962 with the Houston Colt .45s, who were later renamed the Astros. Houston's unpredictable subtropical weather made outdoor baseball difficult for players and spectators alike. Several baseball franchises had toyed with the idea of building enclosed, air-conditioned stadiums. Houston mayor Roy Hofheinz claimed inspiration for what would eventually become the Astrodome when he was on a tour of Rome, where he learned that the builders of the ancient Colosseum installed giant velariums to shield spectators from the Roman sun.

When the Astrodome opened, it used a natural grass (Tifway 419 Bermuda Grass) playing surface. The dome's ceiling was made of clear plastic panes. Players quickly complained that glare coming off of the panes made it impossible for them to track fly balls, so all of the panes were painted over, which solved the glare problem but caused the grass to die from lack of sunlight. For a time, the Astros played on green-painted dirt. The permanent solution was to install a new type of artificial grass on the field, which became known as AstroTurf. This was done in time for the 1966 season.

June 15, 1976 "The Rainout"

Ironically, given the fact that it is an indoor stadium, even more so because a new roof was installed before the 1976 season, the Astrodome suffered a rainout on June 15, 1976. The Astros' scheduled baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was called when flooding in the Houston area prevented the umpires and most fans from reaching the stadium. Both teams had arrived early for practice, but the umpires were several hours late. At 5pm that day, with only a handful of fans on-hand and already several hours behind, the umpires and teams agreed to call the game off. Tables were brought onto the field and both teams ate dinner together along with Astrodome staff and the few fans who braved the flood.

Although the Astros still had a home series with Pittsburgh in August, this game was made up in Pittsburgh in July.

Scoreboard

The Astrodome was well-known for a four-story-tall scoreboard, comprised of thousands of lightbulbs, that featured animations until its removal in the late 1980s. This loss was brought about by threats from Oilers owner Bud Adams to move his football team to Jacksonville, Florida unless stadium seating capacity was expanded. (Ironically, Jacksonville won an NFL expansion franchise in 1995.) The city buckled to his demands, and the scoreboard was removed and approximately 15,000 new seats installed to bring total capacity over 60,000. In 1989, four cylindrical columns were constructed outside the Dome.

Recent History

The 1992 Republican National Convention was held at the Astrodome. The Astros accommodated the politicians by taking a month-long road trip.

The largest crowd in its history took place in 2001, when the WWE brought Wrestlemania X-Seven to the Astrodome. It attracted 67,925 fans.

The Astrodome began to show its age by the 1990s. Oilers owner Adams issued a new set of demands, this time for a completely new stadium, but the city of Houston refused to fund such a venture. After years of threats, Adams moved the team to Tennessee in 1996. Around that time the Astros also threatened to leave the city unless a new ballpark was built. Houstonians acquiesced this time, and the retractable-roofed Enron Field was erected in downtown Houston in 2000.

The Astrodome was joined by a new neighbor in 2002, the retractable-roofed Reliant Stadium, which was built to house Houston's new NFL franchise, the Houston Texans. When the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo moved to the new venue in 2003, the Astrodome was left without any major tenants. The historic facility now hosts occasional concerts and high school football games. Much talk among various civic planners has focused on converting the dome into a space-themed hotel and amusement park or as an additional convention center for the City of Houston.

Since 2008 when the facility was cited with numerous code violations only maintenance workers and security guards are allowed to enter the Astrodome. The city council has rejected demolition plans on environmental grounds, over concerns that demolition of the Dome might damage the dense development that today closely surrounds it. Being the world's first domed stadium, historic preservationists may also object to the landmark being demolished, although it is not included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Houston's plan to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games included renovating the Astrodome for use as a main stadium. Houston became one of the USOC's bid finalists, but the organization chose New York City as its candidate city; the Games ultimately were awarded to London by the IOC.

The Astrodome was ranked 134th in the "America's Favorite Architecture" poll commissioned by the American Institute of Architects, that ranked the top 150 favorite architectural projects in America as of 2007.

Plans to convert the Astrodome into a luxury hotel have also been rejected. A new proposal to convert the Astrodome into a movie production studio is currently under discussion. All renovation plans must deal with the problem of occupancy code violations that have basically shuttered the facility for the near future.

Hurricane Katrina

On August 31, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Harris County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the State of Louisiana came to an agreement to allow at least 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans, especially those that were sheltered in the Louisiana Superdome, to move to the Astrodome until they could return home. The evacuation began on September 1. All scheduled events for the final four months of 2005 at the Astrodome were cancelled. However, eventually officials declared that the Reliant Astrodome was full at 13,000 and could not accept additional hurricane evacuees from the disaster. Overflow evacuees were held in the surrounding Reliant Park complex including 3,000 at the Reliant Arena and 8,000 at the Reliant Center. No more evacuees were taken into the Astrodome. There was a full field hospital inside the Reliant Arena, which cares for the entire evacuee community.

The entire "Reliant City" (the Astrodome and surrounding athletic facilities) was scheduled to be emptied of evacuees by September 17, 2005. The Astrodome has no other current use, aside from a handful of conventions, and originally the Astrodome was planned to be used to house evacuees until December. However, the surrounding parking lots were needed for the first Houston Texans home game. Arrangements were made to help evacuees find apartments both in Houston and elsewhere in the United States. By September 16, 2005 the last of the evacuees living in the Astrodome had been moved out either to the neighboring Reliant Arena or to more permanent housing. As of September 20, 2005, the remaining evacuees were relocated to Arkansas due to Hurricane Rita.

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Tagged:
Astrodome, Astroturf, Ball Parks of Yesterday, Baseball History, Eight Wonder of the world, Harris County Domed Stadium, Houston Astros, Houston Colt .45's, Reliant Astrodome

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