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Robert C. Trumpbour, an associate professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University, Altoona, is the author of The New Cathedrals: Politics and Media in the History of Stadium Construction.
Kenneth Womack, dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor of English at Monmouth University, is the author of several books, including Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles. Mickey Herskowitz was a sportswriter and columnist for the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle. He has written over thirty books and was a writer for George W. Bush and numerous other public figures.
Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack
University of Nebraska Press
Hardcover, 978-0-8032-5545-6, 272 pages, $27.95; also available as e-book; 2016
Reviewed by Si Dunn
When it opened in April, 1965, Houston’s Astrodome was “the world’s first indoor, air-conditioned, all-weather sports stadium.” But more than that, Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack write, the stunning structure—quickly nicknamed “the Eighth Wonder of the World — “was a unique place just to be inside, just to watch whatever was going on.” In their well-written and entertaining history of the Astrodome, they quote comedian Bob Hope as observing: “If they had a maternity ward and a cemetery, you’d never have to leave.”
Indeed, the Astrodome was big enough to enclose and protect Major League baseball games from weather, while seating tens of thousands of fans. And an unbelievable eight trillion tons of air conditioning were needed to keep the players and fans Astrodome-cool.
The massive engineering and construction project was designed to withstand hurricane wind gusts up to 165 miles an hour. Yet soon after the Astrodome opened and the Houston Astros began playing there, “[a]t least one Houston pitcher, Hal Woodeshick, had his wife and kids stay home, just in case the ceiling collapsed,” the authors note.
In the decades that followed, the Astrodome became the site of many famous sports events, ranging from college and professional football and basketball games to tennis tournaments, boxing matches, rodeos, and even a daredevil motorcycle jump by Evel Knievel.
The Astrodome hosted the 1992 Republican National Convention, and numerous big-name entertainers also performed there. “WrestleMania unfolded in the Dome on April 1, 2001, to a crowd of 67,925 screaming fans,” the authors write. “Musician George Strait attracted an audience of 68,266 in 2002, an Astrodome record for paid attendance.”
But by then, the Astrodome was in decline, and a newer, larger domed facility, Reliant (now NRG) Stadium, was under construction next door. NRG Stadium recently hosted football’s 2017 Super Bowl.
The Eighth Wonder of the World is a solid work of sports, business, and political history. It engagingly highlights the financial and civic leaders who led the way to get the Astrodome built. It delves into sports controversies, such as how difficult it was for outfielders to see high-flying baseballs against the glare from overhead lights and windows that let in sunlight. The book also explores the rise of the bigger stadium that replaced the Astrodome. And it covers Houston’s continuing controversies over whether the Astrodome should be refurbished and brought back to life, preserved as a historical wonder, or torn down to make way for more parking.
The prevailing spirit these days seems to be that the Astrodome, site of myriad memories, will somehow live on.
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Si Dunn is an Austin novelist, screenwriter and book reviewer.
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