Remembering the Astrodome (The Eight Wonder of the World)

Once it was the iconic symbol of Houston.  Dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Astrodome was beyond state of the art of the Mid-1960s –it was “space-age” in America’s space city.

For sports fans of a certain age, the Houston Astrodome was a symbol of a certain era of sports where AstroTurf and multipurpose stadiums were as commonplace as luxury suites and LED video boards are in stadiums now.

The building that was originally called the Harris County Domed Stadium was the state-of-the-art home of both the Houston Astros who had changed their name from the Houston Colt .45’s and later the Houston Oilers of the American Football League.

This article is brought to you by Dana Auguster of Historically Speaking Sports.  If you like the article, check out his trailer below!!!

Opening Day

When the dome opened on April 9, 1965, with an Astros exhibition game against the New York Yankees, it was at a time when southeast Texas – and the country — was obsessed with moonshots and beating the Russians to the lunar surface.

Meanwhile, the City of Houston barely registered on the sports landscape. Sure, the Oilers were around and by the time the Astrodome was completed in 1965 and had won two league titles. However, those championships were in the American Football League, looked upon as a minor league and still trying to escape the moniker of “The Mickey Mouse League”

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball was looking to expand, and Houston was one of its prime targets. Yet, using a line from a famous movie,” Houston we have a problem”.

Summertime in Houston was simply unbearable. Heat, humidity, and ravenous mosquitoes were simply a way of life. The city needed to do something to bring in fans wanting to see baseball and have them comfortable while watching them.
So, the Astrodome was conceived. A multipurpose domed stadium that was the first of its kind.

It was more than just a new place to see baseball, football, and other events. It was the first sports’ building that was an attraction all to itself.

Houston, We Have a Problem

However, in the beginning, it did have its flaws.

Originally the stadium had a type of Bermuda grass that was bred to grow indoors. Making it possible for the grass to grow, the dome’s ceiling would contain semitransparent panels made of Lucite to let in sunlight.

However, players complained of the glare coming from the panes that made it difficult to track fly balls. To solve the problem the panes were tinted. As a result, the outfield grass died. For most of their first season in the dome, the Astros played on green-painted dirt and dead grass.

The next season, the dome designers and engineers offered a solution. They installed a new type of artificial grass. In the beginning, it was called ChemGrass. Yet for generations of sports fans, the green carpet-like material would be called “Astroturf”. Adding to the “Astro” theme in the early days of the dome, groundskeepers dressed as astronauts kept the turf clean with vacuum cleaners between innings of Astros’ games.

A reporter once asked Major League pitcher Tug McGraw if he had liked Artificial Grass. His answer was typical of the pro-athlete of the middle to late 1960s. His response was, “I don’t know. I’ve never smoked the stuff.”

Despite its early flaws and gimmickry, it was the site of some of the greatest sports moments ever.

north elevation looking south of the Houston Astrodome

Historic Moments In The Dome

The Astrodome was the site of college basketball’s “Game of the Century” between UCLA and University of Houston in January of 1968. In front of a record crowd of 52,963, it was the first regular-season college basketball game that was televised nationwide in primetime.

The nation witnessed Elvin Hayes score 39-points in the Cougars thrilling 71-69 win over the top-ranked Bruins. Who could forget Dick Enberg’s call of the conclusion of that game?

“The Houston Cougars have snapped UCLA’s 47-game winning streak! Pandemonium at the Astrodome!”

Five years after the “The Game of the Century”, another contest of national interest took place that had gained a name.

The tennis “Battle of the Sexes” between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was another nationally televised event. King, the number one women’s player in the world at the time, defeated Riggs in three straight sets and made national headlines and stands as a milestone in women’s sports.

Muhammad Ali fought there. The Supremes, Judy Garland, and Selena performed there. The band U2 filmed a music video there. Nolan Ryan tossed no-hitters from its pitcher’s mound. The Houston Oilers and Houston Cougars ran up points in the late eighties thanks to an innovative football offense called the Run-and-shoot.

All in the Astrodome.

Innovative is an interesting word when it comes to the Astrodome.

It has been the model of other domed stadiums including the Superdome in New Orleans that just recently hosted its sixth Final Four.

Other domes such as the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Seattle’s Kingdome, and Detroit’s Silverdome have since vanished.

The Astrodome was years ahead of its time. It was more than just a stadium. I had a personality that was as big and as bold as the state of Texas itself.

Author - Dana Auguster

Dana Auguster is a member of the Sports History Network and the host of Historically Speaking Sports, a podcast celebrating “the history of sports, one week at a time.”

Dana Auguster, host of Historically Speaking Sports podcast
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