Photograph, Houston Astrodome Interior

Opening game, 4/9/65. Image courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

After parking in the lots surrounding the stadium (accommodating 30,000 cars), fans entered the Astrodome halfway up the 6 risers of seats. They perhaps stopped to buy a hotdog or ogle the Spacemen and Earthmen working the concession stands or elsewhere interacting with the public. One of the Astrodome’s many innovations was the food, which offered an unparalleled range of options and themes. There were five restaurants that could seat more than 3,000 people at once, in addition to all of the concessions.

Attendees on that first night may have noticed right away that it was cold : as HVAC engineer Naman later recounted, in the face of public doubts about the efficacy of air-conditioning such a large space, he made the showtime decision that his staff would turn the air conditioning up full blast, set to 67 degrees. 


Final Estimate of the Construction of the Domed Stadium

Final estimate of the construction of the Domed Stadium, with county auditor's notes. Image courtesy Harris County Archives.

Three days after the opening Hofheinz announced that the grass was not doing well and the next Astros season would be played on artificial sod. The glare was still a problem for the players during day games, and Hofheinz received more than 1,000 letters with suggestions on how to fix the problem--a mark of the fame of the Astrodome. To deal with the problem, a few weeks later Hofheinz ordered acrylic paint applied to the skylights, over the objections of the architects. This cut the natural light into the stadium by 25-40%. It solved the problem of glare, but it also killed the grass, and it was now so dark inside that the stadium lights had to be kept on all the time. Some of the 1965 season was played on dead, painted grass.

Along with the extra expense of the lights, unexpected problems also popped up with the air conditioning. The engineers found that unless it was on all the time, condensation formed inside the dome and it became misty. The final cost of the stadium was roughly $40 million, with $20 million of the spent on the stadium structure itself. The Houston Sports Association contributed $6 million for upgrades to seating, skyboxes, restaurants, and the franchise offices, plus a $2 million scoreboard. The tensions of the stadium construction led to a rupture between Smith and Hofheinz, resulting in Hofheinz buying Smith out in the fall of 1965; Hofheinz also brought out George Kirksey in the spring of 1966, leaving Hofheinz with ownership of more than 80 percent of Houston Sports Association stock and virtually sole control of the Astros franchise and the Astrodome lease. Perhaps because of his increased financial pressures, Hofheinz decided that the Oilers contract was unacceptable, and the Oilers temporarily moved to Rice Stadium. 

Still, the Astrodome appeared to live up to the wildest expectations of its backers and promoters. By October 1966, nearly 7 million people had visited, and the Astrodome was rated the third most popular tourist destination in the United States. Even the Oilers would come back, leaving Rice for the Astrodome in 1968. The new Astroturf would be installed in January of 1966, and, as Hofheinz promised, the season was played on the artificial surface. This was yet another innovation soon to be widely imitated across the world of sports. The Astrodome would be an symbol of Houston ambition, style, and know-how and a source of pride for years to come. It would also be a center of civic life, and the backdrop for many personal memories of generations of Houstonians.