The University of Houston recently added a lecture by author Jim Gast to its Astrodome Collection. Recorded earlier this year, the lecture presents the history, development, and engineering of the Astrodome. View it online here. Running time: 46:32
Thanks to the University of Houston Libraries for making the talk available online!
Author Jim Gast appeared on a recent edition of Yahoo! Sports Stadiums USA Radio show. You can hear the full interview here. Host Bill Hazen talked to Jim about the many innovations of the Astrodome, including the advent of luxury suites, exploding scoreboards, and the iconic venue’s role in southern desegregation.
Stadiums USA is a weekly radio program that features in-depth conversation focusing on the popular venues of all sports, from the pros to minor leagues to colleges. The program examines the latest news in stadium design, renovations, and stadium connections to their communities. Host Bill Hazen talks with athletes, coaches, authors and newsmakers who share their experiences and connections to the most storied structures and stadiums in all of sports.
Author Jim Gast appears in the new documentary, The Eighth Wonder of the World, which premieres on the MLB Network Tuesday, December 15 at 9:00 p.m. ET . See details and a trailer here. Narrated by Houston native Dennis Quaid, the film tells the Astrodome story from construction, through over forty years of history. The filmmakers interviewed President George H. W. Bush, Houston native and CBS news anchor Dan Rather, tennis legend Billie Jean King, baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and other Astros veterans.
Behind an obscure doorway at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, there is a remarkable collection of historic information and artifacts about the Astros, and the Astrodome. I was fortunate enough to get a look at this collection when I ran into Mike Acosta after a recent game. Mike is the Astros’ authentication manager, and also the team’s archivist and its foremost historian. Mike co-authored Deep in the Heart (Bright Sky Press, 2013), a fifty-year history of the Astros.
During my visit, Mike showed me this elaborate model of the Astrodomain complex, used as a sales tool in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Judge Hofheinz. Hofheinz was a consummate salesman, and he understood the value of an architectural presentation model: it commands attention, and it can close sales. He commissioned several models of the Astrodome during its design and construction, and made a point to send them “on tour” across Texas to garner interest in the project.
This model was designed to fold up into two slender wooden carrying cases, which the Judge would cart around to meetings, presumably to woo convention business and tourism. You can see the hinges in the view below.
From the beginning, Hofheinz had seen the Astrodome not simply as a stadium, but as the centerpiece of a vast convention and entertainment complex. When land was assembled for the new domed stadium, he and his business partner R.E. “Bob” Smith had shrewdly set aside several choice parcels surrounding the site, property that could be privately developed to capture some of the value of the huge facility next door.
When the Dome was completed in 1965, Hofheinz moved to develop the surrounding land. The Astrohall Exhibition and Convention Center was completed the year after the Dome opened. With 500,000 square feet of exhibition space, it was by 1968 the largest such facility in the world, positioned to attract national trade shows.
Astroworld USA, opened in 1968 on a sixty-acre site south of the Dome complex. The Judge’s touch was evident throughout his amusement park in a succession of themed areas: Americana Square, Western Junction, and the Mexican Fiesta Plaza. Families could ride an alpine-themed rollercoaster through the caverns of der Hofheinzburg, or take in the view from the top of the 340-foot Astroneedle. A distinctly Houstonian feature of the new park was a 2,000-ton outdoor air conditioning system, used to cool picnic and waiting areas.
By 1969, what was to become the capstone of the empire was in place with the completion of the Astroworld Hotel/Motel complex west of the Dome. The top floor of the flagship Astroworld Hotel was given over to the Celestial Suite, featuring antiques from Hofheinz’s own collection, and, of course, his characteristic lavish finishes and interior-decoration themes: a Madrid Castle living room, a P.T. Barnum Circus Suite, a Fu Manchu Room, and Tarzan’s Adventure Suite, complete with rope swing. The nightly rate was $2,500 ($15,900 in current dollars), at the time the most expensive hotel accommodation in the world.
In the span of a single decade, Hofheinz had transformed a humid, empty prairie into The Astrodomain, a 500-acre entertainment complex centered on one of the world’s most innovative buildings. He once told a reporter, “Most people have no vision. They’ll build a Coney Island and quit. Or a race track and quit. Or they’ll get a pro football team and quit. I intend to pull them all together here.”
Mike Acosta is working on a long-term plan is to put this model, along with other artifacts from the collection on display in a new Astros Hall of Fame, to be located at MMP. When completed, this exhibit will be a must see!
The Astrodome turns fifty this week, and you’ll be hearing a lot about the building–and the Astrodome Book— in the news.
You might want to begin by turning your clock back fifty years with this excerpt from the book, recalling early April of 1965, and the week that the Houston Astros moved into their brand-new ballpark and found a few problems.
But there’s no time like the present, and you won’t want to miss a rare opportunity to visit the Dome on Thursday evening. Harris County Judge Emmett, Preservation Houston and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are sponsoring a special 50th birthday party for the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” offering a free celebration of music, food and drinks, followed by a rare opportunity for the public go inside the historic Astrodome for a photo with friends and family.
In a story that appeared in the Houston Post on April 9, 1990, Robert Minchew, who represented the Astrodome architects on site during construction, described the origins of the Christmas star that topped the Dome each year:
Minchew says the Astrodome’s Christmas star had its beginnings with some true holiday spirit, and spirits.
The steel framework for the roof was up when a period of rain began before Christmas . Foremen and other supervisors had to report to work even though nothing was going on. Several congregated in the construction shack where Minchew worked for more than two years.
Minchew wanted to work then, and found those men a distraction. He suggested they leave him alone and go do something worthwhile, like decorate the Astrodome for Christmas.
“They had been consuming a little of the spirits,” he said, and thought that was a fine idea. “They went down and got reinforcing steel, and welded it into that giant star.”
“They put a construction string of lightbulbs on it and dragged it up over the steel structure of that dome while it was raining. Why they didn’t fall and kill themselves I’ll never know. So far as I know, they still use that star today.”
– John Ira Petty, “Those folks who built the incredible Dome,” Houston Post, April 9, 1990