The Houston Astrodome was the first of its kind: a top-of-the-line sports arena and the first one in the world to include a dome. Sixty years after it first opened, the historic Astrodome lies abandoned and its fate remains in limbo.
The Eighth Wonder of the World
In 1960, Major League Baseball expanded to Houston, Texas after the addition of the Houston Colt .45s (later renamed the Houston Astros). The only problem with having a Texas-based baseball team is the extreme heat and humidity of the summer months, which could get up to 97 degrees and put spectator attendance at risk.
MLB granted Houston the new team anyway, as long as they fulfilled their promise to build a covered stadium to protect players and fans from the oppressive weather. Ray Hofheinz, the owner of the new Houston baseball team, said the design of the Astrodome was inspired by the Roman colosseums he saw on a trip to Italy.
Building the stadium cost a whopping $35 million, over $300 million in today’s currency. It stands 18 stories tall and covers 9.5 acres (imagine nine and a half football fields!). The stadium could seat 66,000 spectators. It was completed in 1964, six months ahead of schedule and the first baseball game at the stadium was a sold-out match between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees. President Lyndon B. Johnson was in attendance along with 47,000 others who marveled at the futuristic-looking building, which the press dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
The Astrodome was also home to a number of historic firsts. It was the first sports arena to use artificial turf or what we now know as AstroTurf – named after the Astrodome. Opening night of the dome was also the first official indoor baseball game in history. The dome witnessed another major historical moment in 1973 as the setting for the famed tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which was dubbed “the Battle of the Sexes.”
Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, and Madonna were just some of the legendary musical acts who played at the Astrodome, but ’90s Tejano superstar Selena drew the largest crowd in the stadium’s history. More than 66,746 fans packed into the Astrodome to see Selena and her band Los Dinos perform in February 1995. The performance was Selena’s last televised concert before she was fatally shot on March 31, 1995.
The decline of the Dome
By the 1990s, the Astrodome was struggling to stay relevant as televised sports games grew in popularity. Such a large building was also expensive to upkeep, and the field was notoriously derelict. New enclosed stadiums like Enron Field and Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) opened not far from the Astrodome, making it look like an ancient fortress compared to the new and shiny designs. However, one last crowd would file into the Astrodome in 2005 – but for an entirely different reason.
When Hurricane Katrina decimated the American south in late August 2005 it was decided that 25,000 New Orleans evacuees would be relocated to the Houston Astrodome. Refugees stayed until mid-September before being relocated again to apartments and other venues in the area. In 2007, part of the Astrodome building was demolished. The following year, the Astrodome was officially shut down after failing to comply with multiple building code violations. Now, only maintenance workers and security guards are allowed inside what was once the shining jewel in Houston’s crown.
Several refurbishment proposals have come and gone over the years. Leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Astrodome was put forward as a potential venue if the United States Olympic Committee selected Houston as its bid. Ultimately, New York City was put forth to the International Olympic Committee but London, England was chosen to host the games.
Plans to convert the Astrodome into a luxury hotel and movie studio were both rejected. A comprehensive plan was proposed to turn the old stadium into a state-of-the-art convention facility and event center, with a whopping price tag of $200 million in repairs and upgrades. Ultimately, locals voted against the costly renovation project, and another idea to turn the dome into an indoor city park was also shot down.
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In January 2017, the Texas Historical Commission voted unanimously to designate the Astrodome a State Antiquities Landmark to protect it from demolition. A $105 million renovation plan was approved in early 2018 that was set to be completed in 2020, but the project was put on hold in 2019. No one knows if or when the plan will be carried out, and as of 2022 no new plans have been made for the Astrodome.