A History of the Astrodome
Building the Astrodome: 56K
By the time its doors opened on April 9, 1965 for an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, it was already heralded as "The Eighth Wonder of the World." The largest structure of its kind and the world's first multi-purpose, domed stadium, the Astrodome came to symbolize the futuristic home of professional sports in America.
What it symbolized in Houston, however, was far more personal to the people responsible for the Dome's massive concept and its creation in the open fields off South Main Street. For those people involved, it meant the attainment of their dream in bringing professional baseball to Houston, a dream that started to take shape in 1956 by three prominent business men and lifelong baseball fans named George Kirksey, William Kirkland, and Craig Cullinan.
When the National League awarded Houston an expansion franchise in 1960, the foundation for a stadium owned and operated by Harris County was already in the works. In January 1957, Kirksey, Kirkland and Cullinan initiated the formation of the Houston Sports Association (HSA), a group syndicate including other local businessmen dedicated to luring a baseball team to southeastern Texas and willing to financially invest in the project. After HSA's initial framework was laid - though not formally or legally set until the following summer -- Kirksey and Cullinan set out to plead Houston's case to other MLB owners and officials. With plans in hand and initiative in mind, all they repeatedly heard was, "get a stadium and we will talk to you about a team."
During the summer of 1959, the search for a stadium site became the focus at the same time R.E. "Bob" Smith became a pivotal member of the HSA. Smith introduced his good confidant, the former Harris County judge and mayor of Houston, Judge Roy Hofheinz, to the HSA. With Kirksey and Cullinan's urging, the highly-regarded and savvy Hofheinz quickly joined them in their efforts and happily persuaded Smith to allow his land to be considered "available" for the stadium. And while Kirksey, Cullinan, and Smith became more engulfed in landing a baseball franchise, Hofheinz worked religiously on the stadium issues, endorsing his personal vision of a futuristic one-of-a-kind stadium.
"I knew that with our heat, humidity, and rain that the best chance for success was in the direction of a weather-proof, all-purpose stadium," Hofheinz said. "We had to have a stadium that would be a spectator's paradise, but also one that could be used for events other than sports."
When Kirksey, Cullinan, Smith, and Hofheinz ventured to Chicago in October 1960 to attend the annual owners meetings, they were confident the National League would grant them an expansion franchise. The architects had prepared a model replica of the proposed domed stadium, and Hofeinz introduced his idea to the owners on October 17 for the very first time. Later that day, New York and Houston were both awarded franchises in the ten-team National League.
Many believe it was Hofheinz' presentation of the multi-purpose structure which ultimately convinced the owners that Houston was indeed ready for big league baseball. After all, the owners were mesmerized by the structure, and it appeared the voters of Harris County were mesmerized, too.
After six months of detailed drawings and further planning, Hofheinz, his partners in the HSA, architects, and countless other supporters in the city finally had their glory at the groundbreaking ceremony on the Astrodome on January 3, 1962. Nearly three months prior to Opening Day for the team's first season, Colt .45s were shot into the flat, bare land to appropriately mark the site of the forthcoming dome.
With construction now fully underway and estimated to last nearly three years, Hofheinz himself financed the building of Colt Stadium, a temporary stadium erected on the corner of the excavated lot to serve as the home for the Colt .45s during the first three seasons. The outdoor playing field held 32,000 fans and featured various modern-day amenities, yet the extreme heat and summertime mosquitos often discouraged fans from attending games.
Construction of the domed building was finally completed in late 1964. In honor of Houston's significance to the country's space program, it was appropriately named the Astrodome, and to maintain the theme, the Colt .45s were proudly renamed the Astros. Houston baseball abandoned the outdoors and moved across the parking lot on April 9, 1965 to play ball in the climate-controlled structure. With Hofheinz now secured as the sole owner of the team and known as the man who brought the vision of a domed stadium to life, he was coined the "Father of Indoor Baseball."
While thousands flocked to the Astrodome in its first year, the only problem was the natural grass. The clear panels in the roof were painted after outfielders had difficulty seeing fly balls. The solution was a green carpet, complete with padding and made to resemble grass, that was laid on the playing field to take the place of a natural turf. AstroTurf was born.
Kirksey, Cullinan, Smith, Hofheinz and the HAS embraced their ultimate dream after bringing Major League baseball to Houston in 1962. Thirty-five years later, the Astrodome has remained a mark of hard work and dedication to create a structure so defining of its time.