- The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston's Iconic Astrodome by Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack
Trumpbour and Womack tell the story of this famous and influential stadium's planning, construction, renovation, and afterlife. Focusing on major actors who shaped the project, they narrate the changing profile of Houston, from "cow town" to "space city" through the Astrodome. In its early years, boosters celebrated the monument, the world's first enclosed and climate-controlled stadium, as the "eighth wonder of the world." Visitors were wowed by its scale and chutzpah, but the Astrodome's long-term significance comes from its influence [End Page 140] on the stadium experience. Before the Astrodome, sport was pitched to diehards. The Astrodome catered to casual consumers, providing them with air-conditioning, padded seats, restaurants, and a mesmerizing animated scoreboard. Houston's elite luxuriated in private clubs and skyboxes. Spectator sport was infused with show business, and team owners across the sports landscape became more keenly aware of the lucrative possibilities of catering to the rich. The legacy of this reconfiguration is starkly evident in our stadiums today.
At the center of this story is the singular Roy Hofheinz, a man of many interests who never stopped talking. He was the key figure in envisioning and delivering the stadium; the first chapter weaves his biography into stadium development, linking the many promotional and tactical skills he developed in his younger life with those he would employ as author and advocate of the stadium. The authors smartly posit Hofheinz as a Roone Arledge in reverse. Arledge was famous for his television productions that seemed to bring the game experience into people's homes through the innovative use of the camera and microphones. Hofheinz brought the comforts of home into the stadium.
The next two chapters explore the role of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the Astrodome's development, debates over location, early struggles for financing, the complicated acquisition of a major-league expansion team, and Hofheinz's increasingly fractious relationships with other important figures in Houston's sports scene.
Chapter 4 delivers an intricate account of stadium construction. The authors animate what might be rather dull, walking readers through a process beset by uncertainty. Engineers problem-solved their way through design challenges as media and boosters crowed about the stadium's significance; failure to execute this original project would mean humiliation for a city hoping to impress the nation and world.
Its builders rendered an engineered marvel, but it was not perfect. Chapter 5 discusses the dome's biggest black eye: the incapacitating glare produced by the roof's lucite panels. They would be painted over, killing the natural grass within and necessitating the installation of that famed synthetic surface "AstroTurf." This was a last straw for many baseball purists, traumatized by the modern artificiality of sport that the Astrodome symbolized. Chapter 6 examines debates over the use of the Astrodome after its replacement by new stadiums. The final chapter considers the complex's impact on subsequent stadiums.
The Astrodome's significance in the history of stadium design is unquestionable; the authors make this case convincingly. They have delivered a compact, clear, and detailed account of the stadium, from conception to legacy.