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Space City’s Astrodome: The Landmark That Embodies the Soul of Houston

Ralph Bivins, Editor of Realty News Report, a Texas-based Publication

Ralph Bivins, Editor of Realty News Report, a Texas-based Publication

HOUSTON – (By Ralph Bivins) – The Astrodome – an accomplishment in engineering that symbolizes Houston’s can-do spirit – has just been designated as a “State Antiquities Landmark” by the Texas Historical Commission.

The world’s original air-conditioned domed stadium, the Astrodome was baptized in its first game by Mickey Mantle who hit the Dome’s first home run on April 9, 1965 with President Lyndon Baines Johnson in attendance.

With this historical designation, the Astrodome joins the Alamo and the State Capitol as protected landmark buildings. Now, the 52-year-old stadium cannot be demolished or altered without the approval of the state commission.

In recent years, some Houstonians pushed for demolition of the empty, old Astrodome – which was once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The demolition cost was expected to be $35 million.

The ceiling of the Astrodome. Copyright 2017 Photo By Ralph Bivins.

The ceiling of the Astrodome. Copyright 2017 Photo By Ralph Bivins.

Over the last couple of years an effort was led by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to redevelop the Dome, which sits next to NRG Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played next Sunday. The 350-acre county-owned complex, located near Loop 610 at Kirby Drive, is dominated by a flat, ugly parking lot with 26,000 parking spaces that sit vacant on most days.

The $105 million Dome redevelopment plan approved by the county last year will transform the underground levels of the Astrodome into two levels of 1,400 below-grade parking spaces. The 500,000 SF floor inside the Dome can be used someday for exhibits or entertainment.

The Dome has been sitting vacant for years, after the Astros and the Oilers decided the historic stadium didn’t suit their needs. Its upkeep was neglected and the historic dome was forgotten.

Many had forgotten that the Astrodome was the sports playground of Space City while Astronauts trained a few miles away at the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility in southeast Houston. President John F. Kennedy, at a speech delivered at Rice University in 1962, challenged America to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade – and Houston was the headquarters venue for that endeavor and NASA’s Mission Control.

Astronauts were national heroes in the 1960s. Space City’s new Major League Baseball team was named after them and the Astrodome’s ushers and groundskeepers were dressed in space-themed costumes.

The Astrodome, designed by architects Hermon Lloyd and W.B. Morgan, and the firm Wilson, Morris, Crain, and Anderson, required significant engineering prowess because the stadium’s roof spans 600 feet with no supporting columns.  The air-conditioning system challenged engineers because it required unheard of 300-foot throws of refrigerated air.

Buckminster Fuller, the great architect and systems theorist who popularized the geodesic dome, was contacted for an early consult with the Dome’s mastermind Judge Roy Hofheinz, a marketing genius. Hofheinz, a former Houston mayor and county judge had been the campaign manager for Lyndon Johnson’s congressional and senate campaigns. Hofheinz, who coined the “Eighth Wonder” slogan, occupied a huge flamboyant suite at the top of the Dome.  Newfangled corporate entertainment suites, called Skyboxes, became en vogue money-makers at the Dome, even though the view of game was dim from that altitude.

Hofheinz’s greatest challenge came after the stadium had been completed. It was discovered that that the Dome’s roof prevented grass from growing on the stadium’s floor.  And grass – to put it mildly – is a necessary component for baseball games. After some study and panic, Hofheinz hooked up with Monsanto Corp. and plastic “grass” was soon born – a major innovation. It was called “Astroturf.”

Innovation, entrepreneurship and unlimited opportunity – that’s what Space City is about. Houston is the city with no zoning and no limits. The city where success is about your ability, hard work and guts – not about your social pedigree or Ivy League diploma.

The Astrodome is the spiritual embodiment of this untamed incubator of achievement called Houston. Thank God, the Texas Historical Commission finally recognized it.

Award-winning journalist Ralph Bivins is editor of Texas-based Realty News Report.

Jan. 30, 2017 Realty News Report Copyright 2017

One comment

  1. Everyone likes to blame Bud Adams for the Oilers “decid[ing that] the historic stadium didn’t suit their needs”, and quite frankly he had his faults, but wanting a new stadium for his team was not one of them. He had one of the worse stadium deals in the NFL, and it was time. The city and county leaders ignored those pleas, but when he called their bluff and left town, they had no trouble building a new $350 million playhouse just 5 years later.

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