The Astrodome, Part 2

The Foundation Laid, History Made

By DILLON HOLLOWAY

PREVIOUSLY – The Astrodome, Part 1: “Breaking Ground on The Eight Wonder of the World”

An abandoned Colt Stadium sits in the shadow of the gleaming new Harris County Domed Stadium, later to be known as the Astrodome.

Dubbed “The EIght Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome owed its existence to Major League Baseball’s placement of an expansion franchise in the City of Houston, and vice versa.

Originally known as the Houston Colt .45s, the Astros entered the National League as an expansion team in 1962, along with the New York Mets.

Colt Stadium was the franchise’s original home, built as a temporary stadium a mere 300 feet away from where the Astrodome would soon sit.

A far cry from what the Astrodome would offer, it featured an entirely uncovered grandstand that forced fans to endure the scorching Texas sun, swarms of mosquitoes, and an occasional rattlesnake.

The stadium only held around 33,000 fans, and former Colt .45 Rusty Staub stated that Colt Stadium was “the hottest place on the face of the Earth.”

The franchise toiled in these miserable conditions for its first three seasons, posting extraordinarily consistent records of 64-96 (.400), 66-96 (.407), and 66-96 (.407).

As might be expected, ground was broken on the Astrodome on January 3, 1962, in spectacular outsized Texas fashion.

Since the Colt .45s jerseys featured a smoking pistol, Hofheinz and other community leaders broke ground not with shovels, but by firing pistols loaded with blanks into the ground.

Once a $9 million bond was approved by Houston voters, construction started on March 18, 1963, but was delayed by lawsuits and other mitigating factors that kept pushing back the official start date over the course of two years.

As the bones of the stadium began rising on prairie land south of the Texas Medical Center, locals began to realize what sort of show was coming to town, along with a $45 million price tag.

Unfortunately, three workers died during the construction of the Astrodome: two from falls, and another from unspecified causes.

The Houston Astrodome scoreboard erupts with snorting bulls and calf-roping cowboys after the Astros beat the St. Louis Cardinals in 1988. The scoreboard was dismantled in September of 1988 to make room for 10,000 more seats.

“Thirty seven towers were necessary in building Houston’s new domed stadium. The tallest tower, at the center of the structure, was 212 feet. This and the other towers were salvaged by the erector,” wrote Louis O. Bass in a civil engineering journal in early 1965.

These towers helped the structural integrity of the stadium to withstand the harsh weather expected in southern Texas, including hurricane gusts of 165 miles per hour and continued winds of 135 miles per hour.

With much fanfare, in 1965, the Astros finally moved from the miserable digs of Colt Stadium, where the franchise remained until 2000 before moving to Minute Maid Park.

To christen their new venue, the Astros started at the top of baseball’s franchise royalty list by hosting the New York Yankees in a preseason exhibition game on April 9, 1965.

President Lyndon B. Johnson (front left) enjoys the Astrodome’s opening night with Judge Roy Hofheinz (front right).

This game marked the first baseball game played in air-conditioned comfort, while the upper confines of the dome housed the sport industry’s first luxury skyboxes and its first exploding scoreboard, sized bigger than a standard football field and featuring animated cowboys shooting pistols (paying homage to their original Colt .45s name), bulls snorting, and fireworks exploding.

With more of the expected oversized Texas flair for such an occasion, the Astrodome grounds crew wore astronaut space suits as they attended to their duties.

Before the game, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was served fried chicken and ice cream in team president Roy Hofheinz’s opulent suite, and Texas Governor John Connolly threw out the ceremonial first pitch in front of a crowd of 47,876 that pushed the Dome far past its published capacity of 42,217.

Like the stars deep in the heart of Texas, the Dome lights shone brightly on the Astros – a little too brightly, in fact, as everyone would soon discover.

UP NEXT – The Astrodome, Part 3: “The Roof is on Fire, and the Grass Ain’t Real!”

Dillon Holloway is a native Mississippian currently residing in central Oklahoma. He is a rabid football fan and a historian of the sport. He is a husband, a military officer, volunteer teacher and football coach, and emerging guest speaker. He graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s in English and a minor in aerospace studies. He played football from pee-wee through high school, winning the 2A Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) state championship and was named first-team all-district guard in 2011. Since his first football practice, he has always made the sport a part of his life in some fashion, and writing for Miss Ya Blue! allows him to continue to do so.

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