But was he? The globe is now goitered with domed stadiums, everywhere from Tokyo to Toronto. In Carrier's native upstate New York, Syracuse Orangemen play basketball and football in the Carrier Dome, an eponym that suggests Carrier was right after all. He was right. But it was the Judge who made good on the prophesy.
Roy Mark Hofheinz began relieving Texans from the sun—and of their money—as a nine-year-old during Prohibition, when he set up a refreshment stand in his front yard, displaying a hand-lettered sign that read NEAR BEER SOLD HERE, BUT NO BEER SOLD NEAR HERE. He was still cooling customers in the 1970s, when his Astro World amusement park hummed with the sound of that ultimate Texas extravagance: It had outdoor air conditioning.
At home in the dead of a Houston summer, the Judge would often turn his own AC up high enough to frost the family room; when he had the house feeling like a refrigerated boxcar, he would build a fire in the fireplace and bask in its crackling warmth.
Yes, sir, air conditioning could bring Christmas in July So together with Houston oilman R.E. (Bob) Smith, who had a bigger pile than Cod, the visionary Judge decided to build the world's largest air-conditioned indoor shopping complex, just off Westheimer Road in Houston. That was the late '50s. The word today is mall.
About that time a group of local investors was trying to land a major league baseball team for Houston. Frustrated in its efforts, the group began planning a third big league, the Continental League. "This was the heyday in ownership profitability, in control of ballplayers," Fred Hofheinz points out. "The reserve clause was still in place. Most baseball clubs were privately held by rich individuals. Baseball was a club—an inside club. And the Continental League was designed to put pressure on everybody to expand the American and National leagues."
In little more than a decade, baseball's reserve clause would be challenged by Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals, and the mahoganied country club of owners in the other three major professional sports would be gate-crashed by a couple of California hepcats named Gary Davidson and Dennis Murphy. But in 1960 the baseball Establishment forestalled these events by simply allowing two more members beyond the red velvet ropes, granting National League franchises to New York and Houston. The latter team would be called the Colt .45s. And the Colts would be owned by Judge Roy Hofheinz, who abandoned his plans for a shopping mall when he alighted on a better, more colossal use for the cool, gentle breezes stirred by the man-made miracle of air conditioning.
Understand that the Judge blew a lot of smoke, and not all of it came from a lighted corona: He always said that he was inspired to build the Astrodome after a visit to Rome with his wife, Dene. "Mama and I were standing there looking at the Colosseum," he would say of the ancient arena, which was at times roofed by a tarplike velarium in inclement weather. "It was a large, round facility, and most of the stadiums in the U.S. had been built to conform to the shape of the playing fields. Rectangular."
And indeed, the Astrodome would be round, built to fit baseball and football and basketball and boxing and tractor pulls and concerts and what-have-you. So would the four undomed ballparks that would follow rapid-fire in the late 1960s and early 1970s: the abominations of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Those parks are called octorads, or rounded rectangles, and it was precisely that kind of esoterica—architectural and otherwise—that had a dead-bolt lock on the Judge's imagination.
For his intellect was as sharp as the crease in his trousers. The Judge wore a gold watch, but it concealed a tiny slide rule, which says a lot about the man. "I remember vividly a stack of books on the kitchen table," says Fred. "All of them about domes."
Convinced that man could raise a dome higher than man could hit a baseball, the Judge and R.E. (Bob) Smith purchased 494 acres of scrubland, empty save for a lone mesquite tree, from the Hilton Hotel Corporation. The city had already planned 14 lanes of freeway to run past the site, and ground was broken for the Harris County Domed Stadium, to be opened in 1965. For three seasons the Colt .45s would play outdoors in a temporary, low-budget ballpark called Colt Stadium: By day fans would be hotter than bejesus and by night would be buzzed by Cessna-sized mosquitoes.