SI Vault
Liz Smith
April 12, 1965
Judge Roy Hofheinz has gilded the Houston Astrodome with $6 million worth of luxuries that have little to do with baseball—except to coddle the fan as he has never been coddled before
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April 12, 1965

Giltfinger's Golden Dome

Judge Roy Hofheinz has gilded the Houston Astrodome with $6 million worth of luxuries that have little to do with baseball—except to coddle the fan as he has never been coddled before

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The stadium roof is made of 4,596 Lucite skylights that enable the three and a half acres of Bermuda grass on the diamond to grow healthily indoors. Though many think the roof rolls back, it does not, since the point all along was to keep the weather out. There are also foam-rubber theater seats in a rainbow of colors, a plethora of restaurants and concession stands, two private clubs to satisfy status-seekers and help them evade the archaic Texas liquor laws, an army of theatrically costumed attendants, and a spectacular $3 million advance sale for the first season.

While Texas ladies shook out their summer furs or flew up to Dallas to pick up a little something new for the opening and while their easygoing, tall and tanned husbands fiddled with the air-conditioning switches in their limousines as they drawled over car telephones to New York brokers, the judge was working his usual 18-to-20-hour day to see to it that this week these blas� folks who have already seen, bought and heard everything get quite a bit more than they bargained for.

He is also determined that the common man of Harris County, whose bond issue built the Dome, should feel that he is being treated just as well as the kings of petroleum, gas and cattle in the upper tiers. "What we have here is a new concept in professional sport," says the judge. "Baseball is the great common denominator. So here we give the bleacher fan air-conditioned comfort for the same price he paid for an eight-inch board in the blazing sun or rain somewhere else."

In the bleachers there are excellent seats for $1.50 and, conceivably, a man can drive up, park (for 50�), take a free advertiser-sponsored tram-train from car to Dome, walk up a slightly inclined ramp and see a fantastic show—for a grand total of $2. If he likes, he can also spend money among concessionaires who will never block his view or picnic among artificial trees in the field-level Bavarian-flavored Domeskeller. Here, amid plaster elves astride beer barrels, the viewer looks out onto the field through a wire mesh and eats hot dogs sans chiggers, ants, sunburn, sand or rain. What's more, there is the Countdown Cafeteria with its uniformed Blastoff Girls to serve you under anachronistic murals of Cretan bull dancers, stubby Trojan warriors and other ancient sportsmen. Full-course meals comparable to those in the private clubs above will be available in the Trailblazer restaurant, where the murals depict man's struggle for a better life and where the judge wants the customer to feel he has achieved it. Just watching the big rich on the topmost level ought to be a show in itself, for Hofheinz has done everything imaginable and a few things unimaginable to provide the trappings that will make Dome watching worthwhile.

The 18-story Shamrock Hilton Hotel could easily stand in the middle and not touch the sides or top. Beginning in bands of rust for the bleachers, seats rise in a color spectrum from burnt orange to red to black to purple to bright yellow to pale yellow to royal blue. These seats, with the map of Texas embossed on their aisle sides, would be impossible in any stadium subject to weather, and are so comfortable "they will reduce the length of the game by an hour," quips the judge. He claims he has little fear of vandalism, since research by the American Seating Co. "proves that it occurs in direct ratio to the hardness of the seat." Sixty-five percent of these upholstered dreams are behind the world's longest dugouts, because of a Hofheinz theory that everyone wants to leave the ball park bragging, "I sat behind the dugout."

With hundreds of details still to be worked out before the opening, the judge recently gave the last of his A-l guided tours. Most Houstonians were going slowly crazy trying for a preview peek at the Dome, and a sure way to one-up anybody at the Cork Club, Rudi's West or the Warwick Hotel was to say you had been inside. The judge had a strict embargo on visitors—he was saving up for this week's neat jam of ticket buyers in cars at his strategically fanned-out highway ticket booths, which connect back to the Dome via pneumatic underground tubes for quick change and exchange.

Seizing a moment for lunch, he hurried over to Mel's Pit Bar-B-Q, where he could avoid the fans who come up and hammer him with suggestions in public places, for the judge is a celebrity of note in Houston. There he washed down great amounts of hickory-smoked spareribs with mugs of cold Schlitz—one of his new accounts. Heads turned on the grand new roads, which all seem to be leading to the Dome, as the judge, wearing a short-sleeved white-on-white shirt with a row of gold pencils and tan cigars decorating the pocket, whizzed by at the wheel of his long black Cadillac. His tie bore the number 13 and a black cat, his money clip was a silver dollar and his gold watch contained, among other things, a slide rule. His black, slick, slightly graying hair, stubby brown teeth and heavy black horn-rims give the judge the look of an enormous owl. "I studied up on color psychology," he says, dialing a unique rheostat in his lower office bar that controls various hues designed to get people in the right mood for different things, "and I also studied crowd psychology. The stadium is designed for fast traffic. It can be cleared in nine minutes. We have everything figured out—no ice, no food has ever to be moved during a game and the seats are soundproofed, so it we're only partly full the echo is minimized. We spent $6 million decorating on top of the $31 million this cost the county. On the blue level, where our most expensive boxes are, we experimented for a week to determine what light looked best on ladies' makeup and clothes. Listen, every day here will be ladies' day."

Up on the blue level, with its special green carpet and fast elevators, one experiences a slight shock of wonder that these are considered the best seats, in view of their distance from the diamond. This heavenly circle was the judge's afterthought and a matter on which his architects disagreed. He put it in anyway and installed behind it 53 special rooms, each with its own closed-circuit TV, radio, Dow-Jones ticker, icemaker, refrigerator, bar and toilet. The rooms are decorated in a riot of astounding styles from western to southern to Oriental to heaven-knows-what, with much fake green ivy and other plastic plant life and scenic wallpaper panels (there are no windows). Despite the conflicts and contrasts, they create an overall impression of motel modern. The corporate executive pays annually either $18,000 for 30 seats in a box or $15,000 for 24 seats in a box, (each with its special room) for a minimum of five years. With this comes a butler to serve his guests drinks and canap�s. Ladies can freshen up by taking only a step to the private room, and those faint from peering down at the miniature game below can lie down and watch it on TV. There are two 54-seat boxes with private rooms for sale at $33,000.

The judge is still guarding the secret of who bought what as closely as if it were the formula for Coca-Cola syrup—causing some to think that perhaps not many of them are signed for. But many companies and individuals have purchased these showcases, including August Busch, the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, Astronaut Alan Shepard and his business associate, Bill McDavid, the Bank of the Southwest, the Houston Bank and Trust, the Cameron Iron Works, the Houston Chronicle, the Tennessee Gas Company, the Houston National Bank, the Bay Houston Towing Company and others of this ilk. The judge claims 27 sold for sure and 21 more of the 53 spoken for.

These box-and room-holders have one extra cachet—entrance to the exclusive-to-them Skydome Restaurant, with its black diorama of a moving universe, Japanese-style food prepared at the tables and a 210-foot glass-walled view of Houston's skyline. Each Skybox owner has his own specially engraved gold spatula, for serving from the gourmet tray.

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