ASTRODOME. The Astrodome, the first fully air-conditioned, enclosed, domed, multipurpose sports stadium in the world, is officially named Harris County Domed Stadium. More than four million persons have visited the Astrodome each year since the stadium was opened in April 1965. It has been used for major-league baseball, major-league soccer, professional and collegiate football, championship boxing, Portuguese-style bullfighting, rodeos, polo, collegiate basketball, special concerts, conventions, and religious meetings. The Astrodome is the prototype of numerous sports structures.
The first tangible efforts toward building the innovative stadium were made when the Harris County Park Commission was established by the Fifty-fifth Texas Legislature. The bill enabled Harris County to submit a revenue-bond issue to property owners for a Houston sports center. Voters approved the issue by a vote of more than three to one on July 26, 1958. Later, the idea of having an all-purpose covered stadium was developed through the leadership of Roy M. Hofheinz, and it was determined that a new bond issue should be held to authorize general-obligation bonds. On January 31, 1961, the voters of Harris County approved a general obligation bond issue of $22 million. Ground was broken on January 3, 1962. After excavation work was completed it was found that more money was needed to complete the structure. On December 22, 1962, another bond issue of $9 million was approved by Harris County property owners. Although there were two lawsuits and other delays, construction on the stadium itself started on March 18, 1963, and was completed two years later. The stadium structure itself cost $20 million but the overall cost was more than $40 million of which $31.6 million came from two county bond issues and $3.75 million from the state highway department and the city of Houston for off-site improvements, including paved streets, bridges, and storm sewers. The Houston Sports Association, which leased the stadium from the county for forty years, added $6 million for expensive apartments, restaurants, cushioned seats, and a $2 million scoreboard.
The first event in the Astrodome was held on April 9, 1965, when the Houston Astros played the New York Yankees in exhibition baseball. The first football game was played in the Astrodome on September 11, 1965, when Tulsa University defeated the University of Houston by a score of 14–0. Professional football established itself in the Astrodome when the Houston Oilers began playing all of their home games there after a preseason exhibition game with the Washington Redskins on August 1, 1968. Seating capacity of the Astrodome for baseball is 52,000, for football about 62,000, and for some events, 66,000. Temperature is a constant 73°F, with humidity at 50 percent. There are five restaurants. The stadium has a clear span of 642 feet, an inside height of 208 feet, a lighting maximum of 300 footcandles, an air-filtering system of activated charcoal, and a man-made field cover called Astroturf. Hofheinz ordered the plastic roof painted because outfielders had trouble tracking fly balls during daylight in the bright glare and criss-cross network of girders overhead. The lack of sunlight kills the grass, but Chemstrand, then experimenting with an outdoor artificial carpet, produced what came to be called Astroturf. Hofheinz, starting in 1966, used this instead of natural grass. Questions have been raised about injuries suffered from the harder surface, although numerous other stadiums have it.
In 1987 the dome underwent a $100 million renovation. Seating was expanded by 10,000, and seventy-two luxury boxes were built. As well as being the home for both the Houston Astros and Houston Oilers, the stadium has also hosted the United States Football League Houston Gamblers, World Football League Houston Texans, and the University of Houston Cougars. In 1992 the Republican party held its national convention at the dome. The Oilers moved to Tennessee after the 1996 season. The Astros played their last game in the Astrodome on October 9, 1999, after which they moved to the newly constructed Enron Field, a baseball-only facility, to begin the 2000 season.
Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.