The Space Age Houston Astrodome opened its doors on 9th April 1965 as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Today, it lies hidden, unused and unloved. So what went wrong? How did the dreams turn to dust? What lies in the future for the Houston Astrodome?
In 1960 Major League Baseball came to Houston when two teams were added to the National League. A covered stadium was felt to be essential for Baseball at this level due to the hot summers, high humidity and chance of rain. The vision of a huge domed sports stadium was born. The Houston Mayor Ralf Hofheinz once claimed that he got the idea during a visit to Rome where he discovered that the Coliseum once sported coverings to shield spectators from the sun.
The Houston Astrodome was the world's first domed, air-conditioned multipurpose sports stadium. The biggest indoor space ever created by man. It was originally named the Harris County Domed Stadium, but soon became known as simply the Astrodome. The dome was completed six months ahead of schedule in 1964. The opening day arrived on April 9th 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson joined a capacity crowd of 47,879 to watch the Houston Astros play the New York Yankees
Astronauts from the nearby NASA Space Center threw the ceremonial first pitch. Mickey Mantle hit the first indoor home run in Major League Baseball history. The president watched the game from the luxury of a huge private box as he dined on chicken and ice cream. He hailed the stadium as beautiful and massive.
The Astrodome became Houston's defining landmark. In addition to being the home of the Houston Astros the Astrodome welcomed the Houston Rodeo from 1968 until 1996. It also became the home of the Houston Oilers of the NFL from 1968 until 1996. The Houston Astrodome was the first major sports stadium to install artificial turf after the original natural grass pitch dies.
This artificial turf was soon dubbed by all as Astroturf, which even persuaded the manufacturer to rebrand their product from the original Chemgrass name to AstroTurf. The seating capacity was increased in 1988 and many original features were altered including the removal of the vast private box so enjoyed by President Lyndon B. Johnson all those years ago. Major Heavyweight Boxing fights were held at the venue including the Muhammad Ali knockout of Cleveland Williams on November 14th, 1966. Elvis Presley filled the dome on more than one occasion. The stadium hosted the world famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973.
The Houston Astrodome started to become obsolete in the late 1990s and the teams began to leave. The Houston Oilers departed to Tennessee and became the Tennessee Titans. After the 1999 season the Astros packed up and headed to Enron Field, later to be known as Minute Maid Park. A new NRG Stadium as built next to the Astrodome to which the Houston Rodeo moved in 2002.
Events continued to be held in the stadium and it was used as a shelter for the residents of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. However income from the Astrodome was falling year after year. In fiscal year 2001-2002 the venue made net income of $3,658,181 yet by 2005-2006 it was making a paltry $69,191. Income had nose dived and the end was near.
In 2008 the Houston Fire Department declared the Houston Astrodome to be non compliant with the building and fire code so the iconic venue closed its doors for the last time. Houston residents were stunned by News Reports that the Eighth Wonder of the World was no more, a venue that had once defined the can-do spirit of Houston was closed.
Over ten years since the Houston Astrodome was closed, it still sits there, dormant and fenced off. On the 15th January 2014 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
A partial demolition took place in 2013, exterior walkway towers and ticket booths were removed and asbestos abatement work was carried out. A "Yard Sale" took place where fans got the chance to buy stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other Astrodome memorabilia.
In 2013, 53% of Texas voters rejected a proposal that would have cleared $217 million in bonds to turn the Astrodome into a huge event and convention center. In the two weeks that lead up to the vote Astrodome supporters drove around the county in a 26 foot truck dubbed the "Dome Mobile". Inside the truck was a giant wall that people used to write their favourite memories of the Houston Astrodome.
In 2019, things are finally looking up for the Houston Astrodome after Harris County commissioners approved a $105 million plan to reinvent the dome. The third and final round of asbestos abatement has taken place and later this year construction is expected to start. The astrodome's floor will be raised in order to create a massive underground parking garage in addition to 9 acres of open space that can be used for festivals, conferences and commercial space. Construction is expected to end in 2020 when the Houston Astrodome could once more open its doors to a new era of entertainment.