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Astrodome Scoreboard Headed for Scrap Heap

September 04, 1988|MICHAEL L. GRACZYK | Associated Press

HOUSTON — If the Houston Astrodome was the brainchild of flamboyant Judge Roy Hofheinz, the 40,000-light scoreboard that spanned nearly 500 feet of the stadium's back wall could be seen as the twinkle in his eye.

The judge is long gone -- banished from the dome by financial problems and felled by illnesses that eventually cost him his life.

And now the famed scoreboard -- with its snorting bull, lighted flags and blazing cowboy pistols -- soon will be just a memory.

As part of a two-year renovation that will add some 10,000 seats, the scoreboard spectacular is being removed after 23 years of being triggered by Houston Astro home runs.

Stadium officials are not certain of an exact date, but a special promotion was scheduled for Labor Day as a kind of last hurrah.

"I'm disappointed," says scoreboard fan Jack Foster. "You hate to see it go, but it's done its thing."

Foster has more than just a passing interest. He's the man who helped design it and then brought it to life.

"It was my project back in 1964-65," says Foster, owner and president of Fair Play Scoreboards of Des Moines, Iowa. "It was a lot of fun. But a lot of that was the imagination of Roy Hofheinz."

Hofheinz, the consummate showman and P.T. Barnum clone who brought major league baseball to Houston, also was the driving force behind the construction of the Astrodome, the world's first domed stadium. And the scoreboard was meant to enhance his label of the dome as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

"It was his flavor," Foster says of his scoreboard creation.

The Home Run Spectacular that eventually went up was not the first scoreboard designed for the dome.

Foster, whose firm had just completed scoreboard work for the then-new Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, built a model of the Astrodome and designed a functional model-size scoreboard and presented it to Hofheinz and Astros officials.

After team officials nodded their approval, it was up to Hofheinz to give the final OK.

"He looked around the room and said: 'Vanilla!"' Foster recalls. "'I ordered strawberry and you brought me vanilla. We need some excitement in here. I want this to be most explosive. Go back and come again."'

So Foster and a colleague creative signmaker from Kansas City put their heads together and came up with the graphics that have become familiar to millions of Astrodome ticketholders.

The scenes were only on cards when they were brought back to Hofheinz, whose only question was: "How much?"

When told $2.1 million, the judge replied: "That's great!"

The rest, as they say, is history. No one had seen anything like it before and none really has been built since.

"The home run part, that was an instant success," Foster proudly says.

Now he's working on a more sedate traditional replacement -- actually four scoreboards to be placed around the dome. In addition, a second giant video screen will be installed.

"The Home Run Spectacular is basically to be scrapped," says Paul Darst, director of scoreboard operations at the Astrodome. "There's been a lot of talk about moving it, but there's no way to determine how much it may cost to put it some place."

Darst, who's watched the board for 17 years and probably has seen the home run show more than any other person, says it's been estimated that even $250,000 would not be enough to move it elsewhere. And that amount of money is something Harris County, the owner of the stadium, does not have.

He is optimistic, however, something will be done to replace the tradition of spectacle.

"I have a feeling, deep down in my heart, that the county will do whatever it can, to pull some strings," he says. "I don't think you're going to find anybody who's happy to see it go."

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