Earlier this summer I had a nice visit in the Woodson with a couple of loyal readers. One of them, Leonard Lane, ’74, took an interest in something in a display case and astutely suggested that I write a post about it. What he noticed was this:
It’s a 1966 sketch from the McGinty Partnership for a proposed cover for the stadium–not a roof, exactly, but something more like an umbrella or canopy, with the plastic covers suspended on cables between two counter-balanced eliptical arches. It would be open on all sides to allow natural ventilation and either transparent or retractable so the grass could grow. Here’s a look at the model:
Neat, right? But I wasn’t surprised it didn’t get built–it seems more than a little crazy. So that got me wondering. Where could such an idea have possibly come from? There’s one clue to start with–as I was scanning these pictures I noticed that one of them has short public relations-type release pasted on the back of it. There’s a bunch of blather, then one nugget in the middle: “University officials have received a grant to finance a feasibility study of several designs for a ‘roll back sun-shade or rain-cover’ for the huge football bowl.” Hmmm . . . that’s odd too. What kind of agency or foundation would fund a grant like that? A little archival research turns up the fact that the grant was for $25,000–and it was anonymous.
Ah, I see.
Some newspaper research was now in order and this is the part where I have a good laugh. Bud Adams, owner of the then-Houston Oilers, was smack-dab in the middle of all this. The year before, Adams had signed a five-year lease to play in Rice Stadium after being unable to come to terms on a deal with the Astrodome. Not to be cynical but one would think that having a roof on Rice Stadium might be what they call a win-win proposition for Mr. Adams. Although he was quoted in every news story I found expressing his enthusiastic support for the roof and although he was the one who presented the idea to the Rice trustees, I have no way of knowing if he gave the money. It might have been some other warm-hearted individual.
In any event, the McGinty Partnership and architects Lloyd, Morgan & Jones seem to have completed the feasibility study sometime late that summer, although I can’t find a trace of it anywhere. They submitted it to the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Rice Board. Then, nothing. No roof, and Adams took the Oilers over to the Astrodome after only two more seasons at Rice.
Then, in 1972, the idea of a roof for Rice Stadium (along with expanded seating to hold 80,000!) was suddenly floated once again. Coincidentally, Bud Adams seems to have funded this feasibility study also, after NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle commented that a 55,000 seat stadium (the exact capacity of the Astrodome for football) would not be considered as a possible Super Bowl host.
I miss Bud Adams.
Bonus: I was absolutely delighted to find my next-door neighbor in one of these files. He was right at the top of a list of Key Personnel for the study. He disclaims any knowledge of this, but he is an excellent neighbor.
Bonus 2: The guy who got all this started, Leonard Lane, has a new website and blog that I highly recommend. He’s visiting and photographing all 254 Texas courthouses. If you love history or Texas or buildings, you should take a look at this. It’s fun and it has beautiful pictures. http://www.254texascourthouses.net/