- For the aeronautical use see: Astrodome (aviation)
Reliant Astrodome, also known as the Houston Astrodome or simply the Astrodome, is a domed sports stadium, the first of its kind, located in Houston, Texas. The stadium is part of the Reliant Park complex. It opened in 1965 as Harris County Domed Stadium and was nicknamed the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
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. The fact that Colt Stadium was completely open did not help the situation. Several baseball franchises had toyed with the idea of building enclosed, air-conditioned stadiums. Former Houston Mayor Judge 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 velaria to shield spectators from the Roman sun.
The world's first domed stadium was conceived by Hofheinz as early as 1952 when his only daughter, Dene, and he were rained out once too often at Buffalo Stadium, home of Houston's minor league baseball team, the Houston Buffs. They shared a passion for baseball. The little girl, disappointed about time cut short with her Dad, asked "Why can't we play baseball inside?" Hofheinz abandoned his interest in the first air-conditioned shopping mall, The Galleria in Houston, and immediately set his sights on bringing major league baseball to his beloved city, where he had served as mayor. He promised the National League perfect weather in order to secure a team. The Astrodome was later designed by architects Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan, and Wislon, Morris, Crain and Anderson. Structural engineering and structural design was performed by Walter P Moore Engineers and Consultants of Houston. It was constructed by H.A. Lott, Inc. for Harris County, Texas. It stands 18 stories tall, covering 9½ acres. The dome is 710 feet (216.4 m) in diameter and the ceiling is 208 feet (63.4 m) above the playing surface, which itself sits 25 feet (7.6 m) below street level. The Dome was completed in November 1964, six months ahead of schedule. Many engineering changes were required during construction, including the modest flattening of the supposed "hemispherical roof" to cope with environmentally-induced structural deformation and the use of a new paving process called "lime stabilization" to cope with changes in the chemistry of the soil. The air conditioning system was designed by the Houston civil engineer Jack Boyd Buckley (1926-2007).
The multi-purpose stadium, designed to facilitate both football and baseball, is nearly circular and uses movable lower seating areas. Similar approaches have been used in several other stadiums (Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Montreal, Miami Gardens (suburb of Miami) and Pittsburgh).
When the Astrodome opened, it used a natural Bermuda grass playing surface specifically bred for indoor use. The dome's ceiling contained numerous semitransparent plastic panes made of Lucite. Players quickly complained that glare coming off of the panes made it impossible for them to track fly balls. Two sections of panes were painted white, which solved the glare problem but caused the grass to die from lack of sunlight. For most of the 1965 season, the Astros played on green-painted dirt and dead grass. As the 1966 season approached, there was the possibility of the team playing on an all dirt infield.
The solution was to install a new type of artificial grass on the field, ChemGrass, which became known as AstroTurf. Because the supply of AstroTurf was still low, only a limited amount was available for the home opener on April 18, 1966. There wasn't enough for the entire outfield, but there was enough to cover the traditional grass portion of the infield. The outfield remained painted dirt until after the All-Star Break. The team was sent on an extended road trip before the break, and on July 19, 1966, the installation of the outfield portion of AstroTurf was completed and ready for play. The infield dirt remained in the traditional design, with a large dirt arc, similar to natural grass fields. The "sliding pit" configuration, with dirt only around the bases, did not arrive in Houston until the mid 1970s. The sliding pits were introduced by Cincinnati with the opening of Riverfront Stadium on June 30 1970. It was then installed in the new stadiums of Philadelphia in 1971, and Kansas City in 1973. The artificial turf fields of Pittsburgh and St. Louis were traditionally configured like the Astrodome, and would also change to sliding pits in the 1970s.
Throughout its history, the Astrodome was known as a pitcher's park. The power alleys were never shorter than 370 feet from the plate; on at least two occasions they were as far as 390 feet. Over time, it gave up fewer home runs than any other park in the National League. The Astrodome's reputation as a pitcher's park continued even in the mid-1980s, when the fences were moved in.
It was also known for its unusual ground rules. For example, if a ball hit one of the speakers located in foul territory and a fielder caught it, it was an out. Mike Schmidt once hit a towering fly ball that ended up being a long single after hitting a speaker in June 1974. He later said that in most other parks, it would have been a 500-foot home run. The scoreboard was removed and approximately 15,000 new seats installed to bring capacity to almost 60,000 for football. On September 5 1988, a final celebration took place to commemorate the legendary scoreboard. In 1989, four cylindrical columns were constructed outside the Dome, housing pedestrian ramps.
The 1992 Republican National Convention was held at the Astrodome in August of that year. The Astros accommodated the politicians by taking a month-long road trip.
The Astrodome began to show its age by the 1990s. On August 19, 1995, a scheduled preseason game between the Oilers and the San Diego Chargers had to be cancelled due solely to the dilapidated condition of the playing field. 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 (now known as Minute Maid Park and 'The Juice Box') was erected in downtown Houston in 2000.
One of the largest crowds in the Astrodome's history, more than 66,746 fans, came on Sunday, February 26, 1995, to see Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla-Pérez and her band Los Dinos perform for a sell-out crowd during the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show. Selena y Los Dinos had performed two consecutive times before at the Astrodome, attracting sell-out crowds each time. This concert became historic as it was Selena's last televised concert before she was shot to death on March 31, 1995, at the hands of her fan club president, Yolanda Saldivar. This concert and the purple bell-bottomed jumpsuit worn by Selena during it have immortalized her image. This would be the Astrodome's largest crowd until WWF WrestleMania X-Seven was held at the Astrodome on April 1 2001, establishing a new all-time record for the facility at 67,925 fans.
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. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo moved to the new venue in 2003, leaving the Astrodome without any major tenants. The last concert performed at the Astrodome was George Strait & the Ace in the Hole band. George would also perform at Reliant Stadium the following year. The stadium is currently called the "lonely landmark" by Houstonians because hardly any well-known events take place there. The historic facility now hosts occasional concerts and high school football games. Although some Houstonians want the Astrodome demolished by 2009 or 2010, to be replaced by a large parking lot for the other structures of Reliant Park, city council has rejected that plan for environmental reasons. They reasoned 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 yet included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Houston's plan to host the 2012 Olympic Games included renovating the Astrodome for use as an 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 134 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.
According to media outlets in Houston, plans to convert the Astrodome into a luxury hotel has been scrapped. A new proposal to convert the Astrodome into a movie production studio is currently under discussion.
Teams and notable eventsEdit
- The first home run in the Astrodome was hit by Mickey Mantle off of pitcher Turk Farrell on April 9, 1965 in an exhibition game between the Astros and the New York Yankees. The first official home run was hit by Richie Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies in a game on April 12th of that year a 2-0 Astros loss.
- Robert Altman's 1970 comedy Brewster McCloud was set at the Astrodome: the eponymous hero is an eccentric young man who lives at the stadium.
- The 1986 National League Championship Series ended with what at the time was the longest post-season game in history. The hometown Astros lost an epic 16-inning Game 6 to the New York Mets, 5—3. (The record was surpassed at the new Minute Maid Park during the 2005 National League Division Series when the Astros won an 18-inning game against the Atlanta Braves).
- The Game of the Century between the University of Houston Cougars and the UCLA Bruins took place at the Astrodome in 1968. It was the first NCAA regular season game broadcast nationwide in prime time, established college basketball as a sports commodity on television, and paved the way for the modern "March Madness" television coverage.
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. Overflow evacuees were held in the surrounding Reliant Park complex. There was a full field hospital inside the Reliant Arena, which cared for the entire evacuee community.
The entire Reliant Park complex 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.
On Labor Day, 2005, Barbara Bush, mother of president George W. Bush, said of Hurricane Katrina evacuees staying in the Astrodome, "What I'm hearing, which is a little scary, is that all of these people want to stay in Texas! Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And most of the people in this arena are underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."