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Reliant Astrodome, also known as the Houston Astrodome or simply the Astrodome, is the world's first domed sports stadium, located in Houston, Texasmarker, USA. The stadium is part of the Reliant Parkmarker complex. It opened in 1965 as Harris County Domed Stadium and was nicknamed the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

History

Conception

Major League Baseball expanded to Houston in 1962 with the Houston Colt .45s, who were in 1965 renamed the Houston Astros. Roy Hofheinz and his group were granted the franchise after they promised to build a covered stadium. It was thought a covered stadium was a must for a major-league team to be viable in Houston due to the area's subtropical climate and scorching Texas summers. Game-time temperatures are usually well above 95 degrees in July and August, and the humidity makes it feel even more oppressive. Additionally, rain is very common in the summer.

Several baseball franchises had toyed with the idea of building enclosed, air-conditioned stadiums. Hofheinz claimed inspiration for what would eventually become the Astrodome when he was on a tour of Romemarker, where he learned that the builders of the ancient Colosseummarker installed giant velaria to shield spectators from the Roman sun.

The world's first domed stadium was conceived by Hofheinz as early as 1952 when he and his daughter Dene were rained out once too often at Buffalo Stadiummarker, home of Houston's minor league baseball affiliate, the Houston Buffs. They shared a passion for baseball, and disappointed about time cut short with her Dad, Dene asked "Why can't we play baseball inside?" Hofheinz abandoned his interest in the world's first air-conditioned shopping mall, The Galleriamarker, and immediately set his sights on bringing major league baseball to his beloved city, where he had previously served as mayor. He promised the National League perfect weather in order to secure a team. The Astrodome was later designed by architects Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan, and Wislon, Morris, Crain and Anderson. Structural engineering and structural design was performed by Walter P Moore Engineers and Consultants of Houston. It was constructed by H.A. Lott, Inc. for Harris County, Texasmarker. It stands 18 stories tall, covering 9½ acres. The dome is 710 feet (216.4 m) in diameter and the ceiling is 208 feet (63.4 m) above the playing surface, which itself sits 25 feet (7.6 m) below street level. The Dome was completed in November 1964, six months ahead of schedule. Many engineering changes were required during construction, including the modest flattening of the supposed "hemispherical roof" to cope with environmentally-induced structural deformation and the use of a new paving process called "lime stabilization" to cope with changes in the chemistry of the soil. The air conditioning system was designed by the Houston civil engineer Jack Boyd Buckley.
Astrodome Skylights
The multi-purpose stadium, designed to facilitate both football and baseball, is nearly circular and uses movable lower seating areas. Similar approaches were borrowed in the construction of a number of subsequent stadiums, including those in Washingtonmarker, New Yorkmarker, Philadelphiamarker, Atlantamarker, St. Louismarker, San Diegomarker, Cincinnatimarker, Montrealmarker, and Pittsburghmarker. It also ushered in the era of other fully domed stadiums, such as the Pontiac Silverdomemarker in Detroitmarker, the Hubert H.marker Humphrey Metrodomemarker in Minneapolismarker, the Kingdomemarker in Seattlemarker, the Louisiana Superdomemarker in New Orleansmarker, and the RCA Domemarker in Indianapolismarker.

Hofheinz even had a gaudily designed apartment for himself in the Dome, which was removed when the facility was remodeled in 1988.

Initial opening and fielding surface

When the Astrodome opened, it used a natural 419 Bermuda grass playing surface specifically bred for indoor use. The dome's ceiling contained numerous semitransparent panes made of Lucite. Players quickly complained that glare coming off of the panes made it impossible for them to track fly balls. Two sections of panes were painted white, which solved the glare problem but caused the grass to die from lack of sunlight. For most of the 1965 season, the Astros played on green-painted dirt and dead grass. As the 1966 season approached, there was the possibility of the team playing on an all dirt infield.

The solution was to install a new type of artificial grass on the field, ChemGrass, which became known as AstroTurf. Because the supply of AstroTurf was still low, only a limited amount was available for the home opener on April 18, 1966. There wasn't enough for the entire outfield, but there was enough to cover the traditional grass portion of the infield. The outfield remained painted dirt until after the All-Star Break. The team was sent on an extended road trip before the break, and on July 19, 1966, the installation of the outfield portion of AstroTurf was completed and ready for play. Groundskeepers dressed as astronauts kept the turf clean with vacuum cleaners between innings. The infield dirt remained in the traditional design, with a large dirt arc, similar to natural grass fields. Hofheinz reportedly wasn't too concerned with the death of the grass, since the ambitious schedule he'd planned for the Astrodome required a more durable surface.

In 1971, the Astros installed an all-AstroTurf infield, except for dirt cutouts around the bases. This "sliding pit" configuration was first introduced by Cincinnati with the opening of Riverfront Stadiummarker on June 30, 1970. It was then installed in the new stadiums in Philadelphiamarker in 1971, and Kansas Citymarker in 1973. The artificial turf fields of Pittsburghmarker and St. Louismarker were traditionally configured like the Astrodome, and would also change to sliding pits in the 1970s.

Throughout its history, the Astrodome was known as a pitcher's park. The power alleys were never shorter than from the plate; on at least two occasions they were as far as . Over time, it gave up fewer home runs than any other park in the National League. The Astrodome's reputation as a pitcher's park continued even in the mid-1980s, when the fences were moved in closer than the Metrodomemarker.

It was also known for its unusual ground rules. For example, if a ball hit one of the speakers located in foul territory and a fielder caught it, it was an out. Mike Schmidt once hit a towering fly ball that was ruled just a long single after hitting a speaker suspended above the playing field in June 1974. He later said that in most other parks, it would have easily been a home run.

June 15, 1976 "The Rainout"

Ironically, given the fact that it is an indoor stadium, the Astrodome suffered a rainout on June 15, 1976. The Astros' scheduled baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was called when massive flooding in the Houston area prevented the umpires and all but a few fans from reaching the stadium. Both teams had arrived early for practice but, with no umps, the game was called off. Tables were brought onto the field and both teams shared their clubhouse meal with the few fans who braved the flood to arrive at the stadium.

Scoreboard

The Houston Astrodome was well-renowned for a four-story scoreboard called the "Astrolite", composed of thousands of light bulbs that featured numerous comical animations. After every Astros home run, the scoreboard would feature a minute-long animated celebration of pistols, bulls, and fireworks. The scoreboard remained intact until 1988 when Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams supported by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, threatened to move the franchise to Jacksonville, Floridamarker unless stadium seating capacity was expanded to accommodate capacity demands for football. (Jacksonville won an NFL expansion franchise in 1995, and Adams eventually moved the team to Tennessee.) The city buckled to his demands, and Harris Countymarker spent $67 million of public funds on renovations. The scoreboard was removed and approximately 15,000 new seats resembling the 1970s Rainbow Guts uniform pattern were installed to bring seating capacity to almost 60,000 for football. On September 5, 1988, a final celebration commemorating the scoreboard occurred prior to expansion renovations. In 1989, four cylindrical pedestrian ramp columns were constructed outside the Dome.

Recent history

Astrodome interior in 2004
The 1992 Republican National Convention was held at the Astrodome in August of that year. The Astros accommodated the convention by taking a month-long road trip.

The Astrodome began to show its age by the 1990s. On August 19, 1995, a scheduled preseason game between the Oilers and the San Diego Chargers had to be canceled due to the dilapidated condition of the playing field. Adams issued a new set of demands, this time for a completely new stadium, but the city of Houston refused to fund such a venture. After years of threats, Adams moved the team to Tennessee in 1996. Around that time the Astros also threatened to leave the city unless a new ballpark was built. Houstonians acquiesced this time, and the retractable-roofed Enron Field (now known as Minute Maid Parkmarker and 'The Juice Box') opened for the 2000 season in downtown Houston.

One of the largest crowds in the Astrodome's history, more than 66,746 fans, came on Sunday, February 26, 1995, to see Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla-Pérez and her band Los Dinos perform for a sell-out crowd during the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show. Selena y Los Dinos had performed two consecutive times before at the Astrodome, attracting sell-out crowds each time. This concert became historic as it was Selena's last televised concert before she was shot to death on March 31, 1995, at the hands of her fan club president, Yolanda Saldivar. This concert and the purple bell-bottomed jumpsuit worn by Selena during it have immortalized her image.

The Astrodome was joined by a new neighbor in 2002, the retractable-roofed Reliant Stadiummarker, which was built to house Houston's new NFL franchise, the Houston Texans. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo moved to the new venue in 2003, leaving the Astrodome without any major tenants. The last concert performed at the Astrodome was George Strait & the Ace in the Hole band. George would also perform at Reliant Stadium the following year. The stadium is currently called the "lonely landmark" by Houstonians because hardly any well-known events take place there. The historic facility now hosts occasional concerts and high school football games. Although some Houstonians want the Astrodome demolished by 2009 or 2010, to be replaced by a large parking lot for the other structures of Reliant Parkmarker, city council has rejected that plan for environmental reasons. They reasoned that demolition of the Dome might damage the dense development that today closely surrounds it. Being the world's first domed stadium, historic preservationists may also object to the landmark being demolished, although it is not yet included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Houston's plan to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games included renovating the Astrodome for use as a main stadium. Houston became one of the USOC's bid finalists, but the organization chose New York Citymarker as its candidate city; the Games ultimately were awarded to Londonmarker by the IOCmarker.

The Astrodome was ranked 134th in the "America's Favorite Architecture" poll commissioned by the American Institute of Architectsmarker, that ranked the top 150 favorite architectural projects in America as of 2007.

According to media outlets in Houston, plans to convert the Astrodome into a luxury hotel have been scrapped. A new proposal to convert the Astrodome into a movie production studio is currently under discussion. However all such plans must deal with the problem of occupancy code violations that have basically shuttered the facility for the near future.

Teams and notable events



Hurricane Katrina

Survivors of Katrina in the Astrodome
On August 31, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Harris Countymarker Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the State of Louisianamarker came to an agreement to allow at least 25,000 evacuees from New Orleansmarker, especially those that were sheltered in the Louisiana Superdomemarker, to move to the Astrodome until they could return home. The evacuation began on September 1. All scheduled events for the final four months of 2005 at the Astrodome were cancelled. Overflow evacuees were held in the surrounding Reliant Park complex. There was a full field hospital inside the Reliant Arena, which cared for the entire evacuee community.

Camp New Orleans
The entire Reliant Park complex was scheduled to be emptied of evacuees by September 17, 2005. The Astrodome has no other current use, aside from a handful of conventions, and originally the Astrodome was planned to be used to house evacuees until December. However, the surrounding parking lots were needed for the first Houston Texans home game. Arrangements were made to help evacuees find apartments both in Houston and elsewhere in the United States. By September 16, 2005 the last of the evacuees living in the Astrodome had been moved out either to the neighboring Reliant Arena or to more permanent housing. As of September 20, 2005, the remaining evacuees were relocated to Arkansasmarker due to Hurricane Rita.

On Labor Day, 2005, former First Lady Barbara Bush said of Hurricane Katrina evacuees staying in the Astrodome, "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.

See also



References

  1. Barks, Joseph V. " Powering the (new and improved) 'Eighth Wonder of the World' ", Electrical Apparatus, November 2001. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  2. " Farewell To An Odd Dome Home Judge Hofheinz's private Astrodome quarters will soon be just a gaudy memory", Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  3. " America's Favorite Architecture", Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  4. " Could Dome become Movie Studio?", Retrieved 2008-05-01.
  5. Group wants to convert Astrodome into sound stage, movie studio, Retrieved 2008-08-16
  6. " below code dome costs $500,000 per year to maintain, Retrieved 2009-04-06
  7. Houston Astros history - 1965 season
  8. ESPN - Superdome evacuation disrupted after shots fired - ESPN
  9. Barbara Bush Calls Evacuees Better Off - New York Times


External links




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