On April 9, 1965, the opening of the world's first domed sports stadium took place. It was on this day that the Harris County Domed Stadium in Houston, Texas opened their doors. It was later renamed the Houston Astrodome, and the impact of the new stadium set the bar for sporting facilities.
The idea for the domed stadium actually started in 1952 from Roy Hofheinz, who was at the time the City Mayor of Houston. The Houston Buffs minor league team that played at old Buffalo Stadium had witnessed too many rainouts. So after abandoning his interest in the world's first air-conditioned mall The Galleria, Hofheinz was determined to bring a major league team to Houston. He then promised that if the city was granted a team, he would provide perfect weather. That's when his idea of a dome began.
In 1962, Major League Baseball expanded teams and Houston was awarded a franchise calling themselves the Houston Colt .45s. They were renamed the Houston Astros in 1962, and they began working on building the domed stadium that same year.
Hofheinz gathered much of his ideas from his trip to Rome as the Colosseum had used giant velaria to shield spectators from the sun. Architects Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan, and Wislon, Morris, Crain and Anderson designed the Astrodome. Walter P Moore Engineers and Consultants of Houston handled the structural engineering and design.
The dome was completed six months ahead of schedule in November 1964. Upon completion, it was 710 feet(216.4 m) in diameter and with a ceiling of 208 feet(63.4 m) above the playing surface.
The facility was designed for both baseball and football, and was nearly circular using movable lower seating levels. However, problems existed for visiting baseball teams.
The dome's ceiling had panes of Lucite which caused a glare in which players had a tough time seeing flying balls. The sections were painted white which solved the glare problem, but it killed the grass on the field. Originally, Bermuda grass had been used on the surface which died after the painting of the panes. So for the first time ever ChemGrass, an artificial grass later popularized as Astroturf, was used in 1966 to replace the Bermuda grass.
The Astros opened the new domed stadium on April 9, 1965 by playing an exhibition game against baseball's most popular team: the New York Yankees. Hall of Fame legend Mickey Mantle hit the first home run at the stadium in the contest. Three days later during a regular season game, Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies hit the first official home run in a 2-0 win against Houston. But that wasn't the only event to take place on the day it opened.
That night, Judy Garland, most famous for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in 1939, had performed along with The Supremes in front of a capacity crowd at the Astrodome.
By 1968, the Houston Oilers from the American Football League had begun to use the stadium for their home games. The Oilers played there until 1997.
Over the years, some of the most memorable moments had taken place at the dome. Here's a list of some of those moments:
-January 20, 1968: The Houston Cougars played the UCLA Bruins in what was college basketball's "Game of the Century". The Astrodome hosted what was the first ever NCAA basketball game to be broadcast in prime time. The game played a huge role in future coverage of NCAA's March Madness on television because of the game's exposure. Elvin Hayes had 39 points as the hometown Cougars beat iconic coaching legend John Wooden and his Bruins led by Lew Alcindor 71-69.
-September 20, 1973: In what was billed as more of a publicity stunt than serious sports moment, tennis legend Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes". It was a very significant milestone for the progression of women's sports and received many national headlines, too.
-October 15, 1986: Game 6 of the National Championship Series between the New York Mets and Astros took place which is still the longest game in terms of time in post-season history at nearly five hours long. The Mets overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie the game in the top of the 9th inning. The Mets took the lead 4-3 in the 14th inning before Astros outfielder Billy Hatcher hit a memorable home run off the left field foul pole to tie it 4-4 in the bottom half of the inning. The Mets would get three runs in the 16th inning, but Houston threatened in their half of the inning. The Astros got two runs before Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to clinch the NL pennant for the Mets in a 7-6 win.
-February 26, 1995: Tejano star Selena set her own attendance at the Astrodome as 66,746 fans came to see her perform. The record would stand for over six years.
-October 3, 1999: The Astros played their last regular season game at home in clinching the NL Central division title with a 9-4 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Six days later, the Astros played their last ever game at the Astrodome as they were eliminated from the post-season by the Atlanta Braves.
-April 1, 2001: World Wrestling Entertainment's WrestleMania X-Seven(17) took place and was the most attended event in Astrodome history as 67,925 fans came out to watch. Wrestling observers say this WrestleMania was one of the best ever if not overall the greatest WWE has ever had. The main event had seen "Stone Cold" Steve Austin beat The Rock after he turned heel(bad guy) aligning himself with CEO Vince McMahon. Houston's Reliant Stadium would host WrestleMania eight years later.
-2005: In the aftermath of Hurricane Kutrina, the Astrodome played a big role in allowing 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans to use the facility until they could return home.
Now the dome doesn't have any tenants as of 2008, and only maintenance workers and security guards can enter the facility. The Houston Astros moved into Minute Maid Park in 2000. The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, and are now the Tennessee Titans. The Houston Texans franchise came into the NFL in 2002 and play their games at Reliant Stadium.
The Astrodome began an era in which domed sports stadiums were being built. By 1982, the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minnesota, Kingdome in Seattle, Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, and the RCA Dome in Indianapolis were being used as multi-sports domed facilities. Though more state of the art facilities would replace most of them, there's little doubt that the Astrodome ushered in domed stadiums. Other domed stadiums around the world such as the Tokyo Dome in Japan have been built as multi-sport stadiums
To date, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas is now the largest domed stadium in the world. That facility opened to the public in 2009.
The city council in Houston has rejected demolishing the stadium for concerns of damage it might cause to the dense development surrounding the facility. Historians also have voiced their opinion against demolition of the stadium being it was the first domed sports stadium ever built.
Astroturf that had been used at the domed stadium was also adopted at other domed venues which caused concerns for the safety of players as well as health reasons since it has been linked to some getting staph infections. The surface caused many injuries though the speed of games such as American football increased on the turf. Modern domed stadiums now have retractable roofing as well as synthetic grass to address issues other facilities had before.
The Houston Astrodome set the bar for domed facilities to come and began an era that changed the sports landscape as we know it in more ways than one. It showed the world another way to enjoy sports in an indoor multi-sports facility as well as other events in a different light. The Astrodome, though not being used now, deserves its place as a facility that made its mark on sports.
4/09/2010 01:19:00 PM David Funk