Category Archives: Chris Daigle

Houston City Council Approves Changing Name of Local Park to Lorraine Cherry Nature Preserve

Photo Courtesy of Friends of West 11th Street Park

Story Provided by Chris Daigle

On June 9, Houston City Council unanimously passed the recommendation from Kenneth Allen, Interim Director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, to rename West 11th Street Park to Lorraine Cherry Nature Preserve. 

“The Parks Department is pleased to honor the memory of this outstanding Houstonian with the renaming of the park,” said Allen. ”When citizens like Dr. Cherry are invested in making their neighborhoods better, they do the work that needs  to be done to make it happen. That’s what Dr. Cherry did with this park, and because of her effort, we’re a much better city.”

Starting in 1998, Cherry and a group of volunteers coordinated with community leaders, local business leaders, government officials, and the Houston Parks Board in the nine year campaign to raise funds to purchase the property from HISD.

Bridge loans were secured to temporarily bring the property off the HISD auction block. Plans were in progress to sell the 20 acres for townhouse development or to build a campus for performing and visual arts. As early as the 1950’s, there was talk of putting a junior high school there.

Texas State Senator John Whitmire said, “Lorraine’s passion and dedication to West 11th Street Park inspired me to pursue state funding to purchase the remainder of the property and end the cliffhanger over the park’s future.”

District C Council Member Abbie Kamin noted, “This is a beautiful way to preserve her memory and dedication to improving our green space in the city of Houston.” 

Dr. Cherry’s community service was not limited to West 11th Street Park. She also served the Timbergrove Manor Civic Club as Chairperson for Environmental Affairs for over 10 years. She was a member of the Super Neighborhood Council 14, and Chair of Parks and Beautification. Cherry was a voice of reason and mediation for a wide range of community issues.

In addition, Lorraine acted as liaison for both the Super Neighborhood 14 and the Houston Parks Board toward the design of the Bayou Greenways and White Oak Bayou Gateway Trailhead. This three year project required many meetings discussing revisions and including community comments.

Beth White, President of Houston Parks Board, said, “West 11th Street Park is a true natural treasure that all of Houston can enjoy, and because of the efforts of Dr. Cherry and the community, we will be able to preserve this land for generations to come. 

Robert Delgado, Board Member of Friends of West 11th Street Park said, “Many, many people came together to make the purchase of the park happen. At any time the deal could have fallen through. Lorraine was the glue at several crucial points that held it all together. She was successful in this because she approached the key politicians with a kind heart.”

Dr. Cherry’s legacy is one of phenomenal dedication to the improvement of green spaces in Houston. The park now has several amenities to enjoy, such as a raised trail system and a wireless cellphone tour. The park is part of the Buffalo Bayou Loop in the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. In 2017, after Cherry passed away, the community responded with 788 signatures on a petition to rename the park in her honor. 

Generations not yet born will continue to appreciate nature and learn about community service by the grass roots efforts of the neighborhood and Dr. Lorraine Cherry. 

For more information , visit the Friends of West 11th Park website at West11thStreetPark.org.

Source: Friends of West 11th Street Park

The Astroworld Bridge You Didn’t Know About

By Chris Daigle

Photo: Chris Daigle

Being as June 1 is the anniversary of the opening of Astroworld in 1968, I can’t help but reflect on how my 10-year-old self made hundreds of trips across a bridge over Loop 610 to this wonderful world of fun. Just as the Astrodome is a marvelous engineering feat, and Astroworld was built just a stones throw from it with its own engineering miracles, who even knew even the bridge from the parking lot to the park had a place in history itself?

In 1966, as Roy Hofheinz was ramping up plans for Houston’s ultimate theme park, he realized parking wouldn’t be possible on the park grounds. Fighting traffic to get to the front gates would be a dangerous proposition from a busy freeway. Hofheinz enlisted the help of an important friend, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Hofheinz worked with Johnson to gain federal approval for the bridge, since the only thing that can cross a freeway had to be a city street, and this wasn’t. The bridge turned out to be the first privately owned, publicly accessible bridge to cross a federal highway. Having the first of everything was really big to Roy Hofheinz. 

The two were old friends from the Texas political scene, dating back to July 1928, when Hofheinz was a 16-year-old high school graduate (he wasn’t going to wait until 18), working as a temporary page for the New York delegation during Houston’s  Democratic National Convention, in what would become the Sam Houston Coliseum. It was there he met 20-year-old Lyndon B. Johnson.

When the Astrodome opened in April 1965, President Johnson was a special guest high above right field as the Houston Astros beat the New York Mets in the world’s first indoor baseball game. Hofheinz chose April 9 as the opening day because April 10 was his birthday. There was talk that the Astros won the opening night game on a wink and a nod – it was a big event, after all. 

The bridge is still being used for getting Rodeo goods to the now empty field that was once Astroworld. It looks like it did in 1968, with lamp posts and railings. It is the only remnant left of “The Wonderful World of Fun.” The supports were made wider to accommodate a future monorail. Though a prototype existed, it never came to be. 

Here We Go Again, Astrodome!

By Chris Daigle

Since I’m doing things with one hand these days [after a stroke], I wondered what it would be like to work a Rubik’s Cube with one hand. Pretty difficult, I’d guess. 

That’s what it’s been like with Houston’s Astrodome. Ever since it shut down 20 years ago, lots of high-minded people have suggested what should be done with the place, now that every team has its own stadium with lots of luxury seating and a product name the Astrodome never had. 

Even with 20 years of ideas swirling around, and there have been some doozies, the Astrodome Conservancy will now poll the populace for new ideas on what to do with the abandoned Eighth Wonder Of The World that sits forlorn and forgotten, like that last puppy nobody wants to adopt.

Before you submit “turn the Astrodome into a 250 screen multiplex,” bear in mind that any renovation project has to be paid for with private money, since a public vote in 2013 failed. It has to be self-sustaining financially, oriented toward entertainment (versus a medical center) and must be supported by the public.

So far, the answer has been, “Good luck with that.” In 2013 there was an enthusiastic “Save The Dome” campaign ahead of a public ballot on a $217 million plan to make the Dome a convention center. After plenty of “No” votes, but with a good amount of “Yes”, the public didn’t want its tax dollars spent on the Dome – it would be like putting new fenders on a ’65 Chevy. Private investors have failed to step forward on any project to rescue the Eighth Wonder Of The World, including super billionaire Tillman Fertitta.

I’ll jump ahead and save you a lot of getting worked up, which you will do. I am one of you, cheering at the guardrail like a 1978 “Luv Ya’ Blue” Oilers fan with blue paint and an Oilers wig on, so I can predict what the ground breaking result of this will bring: Nothing.

The Astrodome is designated a “national Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s a State Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At this rate, it might be on the Register Of Holes in the Ground.

The Texas Historical Commission has metaphorically lashed itself to the Astrodome like a tree hugger perched in a threatened oak tree. The Commission says, “Unless you have a good plan and good money behind an Astrodome plan, keep your mitts off the building and don’t even think of tearing it down.”

The Astrodome Conservancy has a website called, “Future Dome”, where the public is invited to submit ideas, once again, on what to do with the structure. Will they get more workable ideas than flooded Ed Emmett’s email box for twenty years? Time will tell. It’s hard to imagine what will come up that hasn’t been floated, or sunk, since the Dome shut its doors oh so long ago. It’s now a storage barn for the NRG stadium next door, as well as Harris County. It couldn’t have events anyway, since the seats were sold off five years ago.

Ideas are coming in faster than an Earl Campbell running play. There have been, and will be, plans on making it an indoor Astroworld, a movie studio, a Texas museum, a water park and there’s even a serious idea to dismantle the Battleship Texas and put it in there. Yes, really. 

Professional sports is out of the question, as now every sport (basketball, football, baseball, soccer, hockey and universities) have their own stadium with a product name and luxury seats. Well, maybe not cricket, bocci ball, golf, or jai alai, so there’s hope. The Harris County Commissioner’s Court set aside $105 million dollars from hotel fees and parking revenue in early 2018 to convert the Dome into an underground parking garage, with event space at ground level. The village in Houston exclaimed with glee, even holding a “Domecoming” in April 2018 to give us a last look at the 1965 Astrodome. 

That project went POOF when Lina Hidalgo was elected County Judge in late 2018. Suddenly, any Astrodome renovation was shelved. Hidalgo was more interested in flood relief, social issues, justice reform, and protecting voting rights. Now combined with a year long pandemic, the Astrodome may as well not exist. 

The Astrodome Conservancy leaders did meet recently with Hidalgo. They report that the Judge said, “Okay, come up with a solid plan for the Dome, and good financing, and we’ll talk about it someday.” Sounds like a blowoff to me, but before 1965, who but Roy Hofheinz could imagine a stadium with a roof? Would it surprise you to know that the Houston Rodeo and Houston Texans have never supported a Dome plan, though it would benefit both of them? They’d rather see it gone.

Meanwhile, the Astrodome, and billions of fan memories, lies in state 100 feet away from Houston’s trophy wife, NRG stadium. Ironically, a historic marker to the Dome was intentionally placed facing its replacement, like a symbolic fist raised in the air. There’s been so much propaganda that the Dome is not safe, but it’s perfectly sound. There’s also been so much hype that the Astrodome is a financial white elephant, yet it was paid for years ago.

There was so much noise when the 2013 vote was to tear the Dome down, Judge Ed Emmett said demolition MAY be an option. The media and public ran with it. 

The biggest idea for resuscitating the Dome that fits all the criteria of financial stability, sustainable income, and public support, is converting it into a casino and hotel and resort. That can’t happen because our state leaders are steadfastly against legalizing gambling. They are too busy telling us how and when to wear a mask. 

My enthusiasm for the Astrodome is hotter than a thousand suns, so is most of Texas, but this is getting old. Even for me. We go from being nervous about the future to overjoyed when a plan appears, then nervous again when that plan fails. This is a lot like the boy that cried wolf, but with a whole state.

In this day of new construction  everywhere, the irony is that it could happen for the Astrodome, but it doesn’t. Tillman Fertitta, super billionaire with a restaurant empire and hotels, also has made a name in entertainment venues in Galveston and Kemah. He’s bought the Houston Rockets franchise with $1.2 billion, with a B. The arena at the University of Houston now bears his name, replacing Hofheinz Pavillion. Tillman Fertitta is certainly no Roy Hofheinz, nor is he trying to be.

For now, we stand at the 50 yard line at the Astrodome to see which team gets to the goal: Renovation? Or tear it down? 

The scoreboard’s ticking. The writing’s on the wall.

Once Upon a Time – Historic Family Lost Farm, Will Keep Cemetery Forever

Article By Chris Daigle, Houston Historian

Drivers on Long Point scarcely notice the fenced off area in a parking lot at the corner with Pech Road. Many might think it’s a community garden because of all the weeds. Once upon a time, this was part of a massive farm, and the home of Spring Branch pioneers.

Here was the farm and home of the Hillendahl Family, landowners since 1854 when land cost $2.00 an acre and Long Point was an empty country road. About the size of an average suburban patio, the pebblestone cemetery is surrounded by a four foot hurricane fence. The city wouldn’t allow posts on the street side because of the fear of drivers crashing into cemetery, so it is left vulnerable on its western flank.

A few long-time residents still look backward with the Hillendahls, and even still care. Most of them are In their 80’s and 90’s now, like Danny Turner, who remembers the howls of wolves along Wirt Road, and pasture land as far as the eye could see, before the parking lots that surround the graves now.

Once there were five cars a day on this empty country road, d past a place that lives in history. rations of Hillendahls, many of whom lived and died on this land on a deserted dirt road that went to Houston.The holdouts against the forward march of progress, Arnold Hillendahl Sr. and wife Etta continued with the property long after Spring Branch ceased to be a rural outpost.

News stories in the Chronicle, Post, and Houston Press detailed the Hillendahls’ stand against urbanization, and their ultimate surrender to it in 1962. By then, Long Point had been paved for years, and there were stores and a restaurant or two. Long time resident Jerry Simonton was 10 in the 1950’s remembers, “We would play behind that farm, and watched Arnold plow that land with a mule. There was a lot of land, but most of it was trees.”

Arnold had already sold off most of the massive farm, including that which became the Monarch Oaks neighborhood. Taxes of $200 an acre made a family farm untenable. He gave 5 acre parcels to each of his four kids: Rosie, Arnold Jr., Herb, and Ruth. All but 12 acres went into Monarch Oaks.

Arnold and Etta farmed those last 12 acres until they were surrounded by progress. They raised the white flag, gave up the farm, and moved a few miles west. Houston caught up with them there, too. When they moved, they took the farmhouse, a couple of magnolia trees, and Rock, their 21-year-old mule, with them. Two century old barns were demolished, along with the pens, smokehouse, and chicken coops. An old well, dug by hand a century earlier, was covered over. Developers turned what was left of the Hillendahl farm into a parking lot and shopping center, with a 80.000 sq. ft. and Kmart at it’s center. A sea of concrete was poured over land that once grew corn, beets, onions,cabbage, and peas.

The only trace remaining, besides a street named after the Hillendahl family, is the cemetery. This will remain, no matter what. Arnold Hillendahl Jr. says his father saw to that.“The cemetery is set up with the city, county, and state to remain a cemetery. It took Dad five or six years to get that through. He wanted to make sure it would never get moved.”

A trust fund provides for maintenance of the little plot of land, final resting place for 20 of the Hillendahl family, including the patriarch, Heinrich Hillendahl. He purchased the farm’s original 80 acres in 1851 for $2.00 an acre. The rest was added in 1904. Heinrich buried his wife Elizabeth there in 1854. When he died in 1870, he too was added there.

Though the Hillendahl farm ranged from Long Point to what is now Westview Drive, and from Pech Road to Monarch Oaks, the family owned property all over Spring Branch. The family owned the first post office, and from 1885 to 1912, the area was known as Hillendahl.

How different were times back then? “We used to drive the cattle down to Wirt Road in the morning, and bring them home in the evening,” says Ruth. They talk of well water, wagon rides, chores, and switch whippings. The family laments the loss of the farm, and a fading way of life in general. Herb says their father was born and died at the farm, and their mother, Henrietta Viola Williams, known as “Etta,” was born a mile away, where 610 is now.

The family travelled in a buggy to get into town for provisions, and would make homemade sausage, homemade bacon, homemade ham. Vegetables were plentiful. For fun, Herb and Arnold played ball and rode bicycles to Houston when its city limits were miles from home. Produce grown on the farm fed much of Houston, and was sold at the Farmer’s Market on weekends.”You didn’t dare get in trouble then,” says Ruth. “Because when you get home, Daddy already knows about it. He didn’t have to whip us, he had to just look at you.”

The memories spring like the flowers on their ancestor’s graves. “Giving up the farm the family had for over a hundred years was the hardest thing Daddy ever did,” says Ruth. “Where the old house was, you could look out and see nothing. Then the city put up a bridge across from us.”

“They were sad, but they knew there was nothing they could do about it,” says Herb. “They never showed emotion much.”

Danny Carter’s family weren’t Spring Branch pioneers, but he laments the changes. “It’s all these apartments now. I was in the service when this was farmland. I came back and got married, and everything changed. We didn’t have air conditioning back then. We’d keep the windows open and hear the wolves out on Wirt Road.”

Most area residents are glad to see Spring Branch spiffed up from its former image of the 1970’s, but the fact is, revitalization is about the future, not the past. Even if it develops into a futuristic haven, it never again will be the pastoral world the Hillendahls remember.

Herb talks instead of the swimming hole at the creek that gave Spring Branch its name. He’s the only one living near the former farm. Some mornings he waters and tends the crepe myrtles on his ancestor’s graves. Each ancestor gets their favorite flower on his or her gravestone. It’s part of an old German philosophy that says, “From death springs new life. Herb tries not to linger too long or notice the busy traffic on Long Point, which is 20 feet away these days.

Once there were five cars a day on this empty country road, driving past a place that lives in history.

Once upon a time.

*******

CHRIS DAIGLE is a native Houstonian and a contributing editor to The Grapevine Source. All articles and photos are copyright Chris Daigle. To contact Chris, click HERE.

HOLD ONTO THOSE HANDLEBARS!

By Chris Daigle

Even at my age, I was a kid once, with a bicycle, and learned that bicycles and gravity don’t mix sometimes. That teaches you real quickly that the outcome of your actions is up to you, and with a few exceptions, like a tree falling on you, you did it to yourself, so don’t do it again.

Here I am at 62 and that still applies to me.I’m still holding to the concept that I’m bullet proof. I walked around with high blood pressure for years, but never had a problem with it, even when the doctor told me it would be a problem. I pretty much thought I’d deal with it when something happened. That was a really bad decision. Now, my left side is out in left field somewhere, and is not coming to home base real soon because of a stroke.

It’s easy to do Monday morning quarterbacking now. I should’ve listened and should’ve acted sooner. This makes me wish someone had taken me into the future (sort of like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”), but that unfortunately can’t happen. So, it’s important to keep your eye on the ball, because it’s coming, and nobody watch it for you.

Our current pandemic (COVID-19) situation puts a fine point on that. This is a situation we’ve never had before, but had plenty of warning about. Just watch the National Enquirer: It’s all there. People are saying the death rate is low, some places have no problem, so what’s the big deal?

Other events have been much worse. We are about a month into this, right? How do we know what’s coming in two weeks or in two months? People in 1939 and 1940 thought some skirmish in Europe was none of our business, which is a far different tune we sung in 1946 when all the results were in. Now, tell me it was no big deal!

“Oh, why do we have to stay home?” people cry. “Oh, these new rules are illegal!” Maybe we are actually taking a page from history and doing something preemptive ahead of time. If we told people on September 10, 2001 what would happen on September 11, maybe there would be 10 deaths instead of over 3,000. Maybe someone should’ve grabbed me and taken me to a hospital a day before my stroke, and I’d have a new outlook on life now. My parents told me long ago that the two saddest words in the English language are, “If Only.”

Okay, so here we are, in a new time that may be the new normal – we just don’t know. With all this run on toilet paper going on, the Martians will land and report, “We don’t know what killed them, but they’ve got the cleanest asses we’ve ever seen!”

We have new circumstances, but it’s not a prison sentence. Many of us are out of work, but you weren’t fired from your job. You, and everyone else, are on temporary hold. Use the time constructively. Teach yourself or a kid how to change a tire or how to sew a button. Call me and I’ll show them what it’s like to have a stroke, and how to avoid it, well, like a Coronavirus. Get the old photos out and find out who, what, when, how, and why they are, and write it down. It might be of interest to someone some day. My first picture editor, Paul Gittings, said, “You are here to leave a trail.”

Repair that door that needs work, Improve your finances. Find cheaper ways of doing things, and re-evaluate what you NEED. Do you REALLY need cable TV? Teach a kid the dangers of  credit cards, and what happens when they are abused. Yes, you want that cool bicycle, but don’t break the glass doors of your available money to have it. Learn how and why to listen, and when to keep your mouth shut. These are things I wish I had learned oh so long ago, and is certainly not taught in schools. 

We will come out of this better than before, and with a whole lot cleaner hands and backsides. While we’re at it, there’s no real use for the term “work feverishly,” and something that “goes viral” can’t be good vernacular either, so refrain. Our healthcare system might just improve from all this, too.

We’re on a wobbly bicycle right now, and it’s a muddy slick hill, but the only way to go is up right now, because down really sucks. Just get up, wipe away the pebbles, and push ourselves back up the hill.  There’s a lot of us riding, too.

***

DaigleCHRIS DAIGLE is a native Houstonian and a contributing editor to The Grapevine Source. All articles and photos are copyright Chris Daigle.

ASTROMAN LIVES: THE FORGOTTEN STORY OF 10 DAYS AND NIGHTS ON THE ASTRODOME ROOF

By Chris Daigle

It was a baseball story that sounded too weird to be true. It supposedly happened 40 years ago, yet the evidence was scant that in my 61-year old mind, I thought it happened in about 1972 or so. The tale was about a 25-year-old guy living in a tent for 10 days on top of one of the most famous sports venues in the world: The Astrodome.

That’s all much as I remembered. After all, I was 23 years old at the time, just out of college, and the Astrodome was where everything went on. Like Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium, everything was “At the Dome.”  Yet I kept coming back to one question: How was this man allowed to do this?

The story went something like this:

In October of  1980, as the city of Houston reveled in the Astros’ first post-season berth in franchise history, a radio station general manager at FM 100.3 KILT named Dickie Rosenfield came up with a promotional idea. As the hometown team chased a pennant and walked that yellow brick road to the World Series, the station would send an employee to live on top of the Astrodome – the heart and soul of Houston.

The man would eat, sleep, and pass the days on a roof platform and inside a circular steel gondola that hung from the ceiling. He would not come down until the Astros won the pennant. Somebody at the station, most likely Rosenfield, thought up the name “Astroman.”

The promotion was modeled after the flagpole sitter stunts of an earlier era, when somebody would climb atop a pole or raised platform and sit there as a test of endurance meeting a taste of publicity. Sometimes the sitter would not come down for weeks.

Nonetheless, this Astrodome stunt seemed different. Somebody lived atop the “Eighth Wonder of the World” during the classic five-game NLCS series against the Philadelphia Phillies! Somebody relied on a rope system for food! He had a landline phone for radio interviews! Really??

“It was a different time,” says Denver Griffith, the man at the center of our story. Griffith was 25 years-old then, a native Texan with a high school diploma and a sales job at KILT radio. He handled the accounts of  Houston’s music venues and rock clubs, using the gig to score concert tickets and establish relationships with promoters. To those that knew him, Griffith had a nose for a good time.

That is partly why he was chosen for the Astrodome assignment. He was young, single and a little bit adventurous. “Back then, in the 70’s, life around the radio station was  pretty wild,” he says. “It was pretty much anything goes.”

For decades, Griffith has carried the memories of those 10 days atop the Astrodome. A lot of time has gone by, and almost nobody else recalls the stunt. Contemporary news accounts from back then are spotty. Archived video is hard to find. You can find traces of Griffith’s sit-in on internet message boards and there’s a brief synopsis on Wikipedia with no citation.

Zoom ahead to 2017 when the Astros not only made it to the World Series for the second time in franchise history, but won the whole thing this time. The town of Houston was engulfed in baseball fever. KTRK Channel 13 (ABC in Houston) tracked down Griffith and ran a short piece. The story was just two minutes long and mentioned the usual details: 1980, NLCS and a man atop the Astrodome.

But was it true? I tracked down Mike Acosta, who is an historian-authenticator for the Astros (which is an extremely cool job to have as your team is about to see World Series number two), who pointed me to the KTRK story, and with the name Denver Griffith firmly established, Facebook led me right to him. Yes, he is real, and he answered.

Before we go any further in this story, we must establish two things. If you did not grow up in Houston in the 1960’s or 1980’s, you cannot understand what the Astrodome meant to our city. Not just as a sporting venue, but as a symbol.

Once billed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” the building was finished in 1964, eight months ahead of schedule, and opened in April, 1965 on the birthday of Roy Hofheinz, the genius behind the idea. It was the first stadium with a roof and the first stadium with air conditioning. Tickets were $3.50 for mezzanine seats and parking was one dollar. Just being there was a big deal.

Housing the Houston Astros and the NFL’s Oilers since 1968, the stadium was pioneering in more ways than one. At age 7, my memories of smelling fresh paint, along with hot dogs and popcorn, seem like yesterday. The place was known around the world. Anywhere in Europe, if you mentioned Texas, you’d be asked about the Astrodome. 

The second point to be made is that the Astrodome was Houston’s “Coliseum.” The Astros were its original “gladiators.” From 1962 to 1978, the team had little success, with three winning seasons total. I remember them being called the “Lastros” for their dismal record. So, when the team finally got to the NLCS, we took notice.

Denver Griffith couldn’t wait to talk. “Astroman lives!” he told me. Griffith was a Houstonian and a little adventurous, just like his father, who owned many of the drive-in movie theatres around town. One sales job led to another, and he eventually landed a sales job at KILT, the rock radio station at the time. Rosenfield convinced the higher ups at the Astros to allow someone on top of the Dome for the entire series. “I had a knack for these crazy promos, and I wasn’t married, so it was on,” Griffith said.

astroman photo

Photo courtesy of Chris Daigle

Nearly four decades later, Griffith has only one photo from his adventure. He is standing on a wooden platform on the Astrodome roof, a tent set up behind him and a pennant attached to a pole. He is wearing jeans, a cap and a white t-shirt with four words: I Love You, Houston.

He remembers the setup vividly. One night in September of 1980, the radio station held a party at an Astros game. “I was hoping to come out in an Astros uniform, but the owner of the station [at the time], Gordon Mc Clendon, put me in a Scottish kilt, because, after all, the station was KILT  and he had a Scottish background, and that was it,” Griffith explains. He went up the long catwalk and the final door was like a spring-loaded submarine hatch.

On the roof, Griffith had an eight-man tent and access to a landline phone. He did interviews with the station DJ’s  just about every hour. He spent the first night in a sleeping bag inside because of heavy rains outside. The other nights he spent outside, as the weather, the altitude and the views were that pleasant.

The other logistics were less appealing. Griffith was given a makeshift Port-A-Potty. “My food came in bags and left in bags,” he said. He never showered, instead using a powder to wash his hair.

The process of getting meals was tedious. At first, the Astrodome supplied a long rope, left over from a construction project, and a basket. But Griffith had to manually lower the basket from 18 stories up and haul the food back up, which was a taxing chore to do every day. “Talk about a workout, it was just crazy,” he said. “So I finally thought, ‘Forget this! I’ll just meet people at the end of the catwalk. They’ll hand up boxes of food, and I’ll just walk back up to the top,’” he said.

By the fourth or fifth day, Griffith was shouting out to restaurants on air and getting free meals delivered to his Astrodome lair. The assignment came with other perks, too. He could watch Astros games for free from 200 feet above the field, watching Cruz track fly balls. His memories are flooded with other weird instances.

“One day, my mom arrived at the Astrodome with food, and interrupted a practice run by Oilers coach Bum Phillips,” he said.

In the hours before he took his perch, a veteran Astros pitcher had one request: Could he pee on Tom Seaver’s head?

At night, when the games were over, Griffith would move from the roof to the gondola. For a moment, he would take in the silence and serenity of an empty Dome. “You’d come down inside and it was total darkness,” he said. “You couldn’t see a damn thing, and I sure knew I was 18 stories up.”

It was an incredible story, and it was incredibly weird. I asked whether this could be done today? “Probably not. There’s too much liability today. I told the Astros that if they wanted to do it again, I’d be there,” Griffith said. 

A few years ago, “Astroman” pieced together a retroactive log of the stunt. First, he needed to remember the day it started. He found weather records of the day it stormed. He started on that day and counted forward. The Astros did not lose game 5 of the NLCS until 18 days later. Details were fuzzy, but he didn’t remember THAT many days on the Astrodome roof. 

There were some newspaper articles, such as the Austin American Statesman, which printed, “Astros fall to Atlanta: As part of a ‘back the Astros’ night, sponsored by a local radio station, Denver Griffith, an employee of the station, climbed to a gondola inside the roof  and vowed he would not come down until the Astros won the pennant. From the looks of things, Griffith may be up there a while.”

The story mentioned fans braving heavy rains to attend the game. Two days later, a Dayton Daily News reporter Hal Mc Coy mentioned Griffith again: “With another howling throng stuffed into the Astrodome, including local radio personality Denver Griffith peering through the roof from his temporary girder residence, the Cincinnati Reds  quickly jumped on Houston’s Joe Niekro Saturday night.”

Griffith’s final day on the roof was September 30, 1980. The Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3 to 2. They finished 89-73, 1 and ½ games behind the Reds. It was, at the time, the best season in franchise history. But the city would have to wait one more year for playoff baseball and until 2005 for a shot at the World Series.

On his final day on the roof, the boss asked Griffith if he wanted to make his departure an event. Astroman said no. “I just wanted to come down. It was over,” he said. Almost 40 years later, Harris County has tentative plans to renovate the Astrodome and it has been declared a Texas Historical landmark. There were political fights and public votes. The city didn’t want to leave its history behind.

The Astros, meanwhile, went back to the World Series. They gave it a good shot, but lost game 7 against the Nationals. There’s always next season. The games weren’t in the Astrodome, but we take what we can get. Denver Griffith is in Austin now, in the communications business. His tenure as Astroman is kind of funny and kind of weird, but it’s another exhibit of why we love this building. Kids growing up now will never know quirky things like this today. I’m still stunned it happened, which is a tribute to my 61 year-old memory.

“Houston was booming then,” Griffith said. “It was still coming up, still finding its way, and it was a looser atmosphere. Of course, it was also the 1970’s.” Thanks for the memories, Denver Griffith.

THE ASTRODOME: WHATEVER BECAME OF ME?

By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor and Houston Historian

Uof Hwins Bluebonnett Bowl

University of Houston celebrates winning the 1969 Bluebonnet Bowl against the Auburn Tigers in the Astrodome

There are very few distractions when you work from home, so you tend to notice things close to your heart. For me, one of them, along with the ice cream man in the afternoon and washing off sand at a Galveston beach, has to be the Astrodome. That’s all you have to say to a stranger who grew up in Houston. The Astrodome. Just stand back, because memories are going to come out like a fire hose. Way in the back of my mind, I always wanted there to be something to represent how we collectively felt, and still feel, about this place, and I’ve recently stumbled upon it.

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis recently recorded and made a video for their song, “Astrodome.” They get it – they really understand what the Astrodome meant to us. Together with Texas songwriter/singer Jack Ingram, they take us on a journey of deep introspection, and get right to the bullseye of Astrodome culture.

Texas Monthly calls this newest song from Robison and Willis’s album Beautiful Lie “touching.” In my opinion, that comment is on par with calling the ocean “damp.” Robison and Willis travel back to the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and wipe the dust off fading memories.

Fortunately, my memories aren’t fading. Every minute of my time in the Astrodome was spent mentally remembering every detail of the spectacle in front of me: The smell of the smoke from the destruction derby or watching Evel Kneivel about to jump several cars on his motorcycle and wondering if he was going to make it. Oh no, my friends…nothing’s faded. I don’t remember what I wore last Tuesday, but I remember everything about the Dome.

Robison and Willis draw on familiar Texas music legends in their mixture of memories and harmonies. “There’s something familiar in here,” was my thought. Sure enough, Robison cites Roger Miller and Jerry Jeff Walker as huge influences on his style. The styles of Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings come along for good measure.

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis really did it this time. They were just fine with songs like the slow waltzing ballad, “Beautiful Lie,” the crushingly sublime “Lost my Best” and the album closing, “Heartache to Houston.” But they really put the pedal to the metal with “Astrodome,” going right to the center of all our nostalgia and reminding us there was a place like none other, and a time like none other. We may be older and we may not live in Houston anymore, but we were there to see Elvis in a Jeep waving at us or to see George Strait supersize his career at the Rodeo on a moment’s notice. The Dome is a shrine to Texas “Can Do” spirit, which is a part of us, like a nostalgic tattoo never to be removed.

I was lucky. I did sit in the Astrodome and wonder whatever became of that version of me so many times. I became one with the dream that this building represents; a tireless effort by one man to make something unforgettable, and to create a legacy for a city. The stadium next door [NRG Stadium] never quite achieved that. It just made us sit on plastic seats and pay a fortune for food.

Robison and Willis have brought us all together in the field boxes again, and we remember.

Thanks to them from the state of Texas.

‘.

Special Assignment: Stroke

By Chris Daigle

As a journalist, I’ve been in some unusual situations. I’ve flown with the Blue Angels in a C-130 going straight up, an adventure which earned me the flight name, “Chili Man,” having survived a bowl of chili right before the flight without incident. I’ve traveled at 200 miles an hour on a race track and have been upside down in stunt planes. The greatest story ever assigned to me came without warning, and not over the phone or email.

I’ve had a stroke.

chris in therapy

Chris in Therapy

I didn’t think much of it at first, as I pulled into a now-defunct clinic, thinking I could just get a shot or something to make this go away. As the ambulance took me to the hospital, I was gripped by one thought: this is bad.

I learned about hospitals, doctors and medicines very quickly, and hospital life became a new way of living for me. Thinking about the next examination was the overriding guide for my day. Little did I know that a vast network of friends and family mobilized on my behalf behind the scenes. My employer and his staff came to the hospital. Others worked to help me establish state and federal benefits.

I constantly thought, “What is this all about?” in those first few days, wondering why my left side wouldn’t work. From the beginning, I had to realize that this was really me going through this, and it wouldn’t just go away, like other calamities in my life. My nickname at work is,” M.O.D.,” or Master of Disaster because I’ve had so many close calls over the years.

Apparently, because of the way I was eating, the term, “Master of Donuts” fit also. I was eating all the wrong things, and it caught up with me. Too much Taco Bell; too much Mountain Dew. The stress didn’t help either. I’m like a fire truck for five different departments that need stuff right now. And that’s in addition to planning my evenings, weekends, and finances. It’s a lot, as I’m sure most of you know. Take this piece of advice: When the doctor tells you to bring down your hypertension and blood pressure, do it.

Then I found myself asking, “Why me?” Everybody told me that this is just something that happens in your head. It’s not punishment for anything, and the sooner you get treatment, the better you will be. My response has been that my left side is still there, and if it’s not damaged or missing, it will come back. Indeed, my mentor Catherine Roberts, told me that it took 11 weeks for her faculties to return after the stroke she had.

That’s not to say that other thoughts don’t creep in, even though I try my best to be positive. Now I can’t work, so what about my finances? How am I going to get around once I get home? I spent several weeks in the hospital, and three months in a rehab facility. It was definitely an education. The first cold hard reality was that there are people around me in far worse condition than myself. That made me feel better, with a sense of, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Seeing functioning people moving around me made me jealous until I figured out they were once in worse shape than me, and have gotten better, so now they are a model for my recovery.

One bright ray of light in this whole adventure has been the tremendous support of my girlfriend, Denise. She’s really sick herself with blood problems and so forth, but put her problems aside to care about me. Early on, I said, ”This is terrible!” She came back with a response I’ll always remember. She said, “Terrible is temporary.” That should be written on the walls in this place.

This is such a different lifestyle than before. Once I could go downstairs, take the trash out, do the laundry and a hundred other things with two hands. Now I have to know what to do with one hand. I can’t do my former job, and things like laundry and personal care will now be a challenge.

Living in a wheelchair every day makes you humble. It certainly makes you appreciate what you used to have. This is my first time going through this, so it’s a different world; however, less and less I’m thinking that this is some kind of a dream that I’ll wake up from.

Several lessons came from all this. If the doctor tells you to cut back and be more healthy, do it. Don’t wait for something to happen that will force you to follow this advice. I figured it would never happen to me, but it did.

Don’t take anything for granted. Things don’t have to work out well all the time. Something good may be around the corner. You are not immune to anything and do what it takes to avoid trouble. I didn’t, and it got me here.

I can’t be mad at what happened; it was my fault. What am I going to do? Sue the back of my brain? It’s like a hurricane – you can’t get back at nature.

This will be a cliffhanger, but it showed me the importance of life. You get one mind, one body, and one life. Use it well.

***

Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.

Rescue Pets and a Glamorous Crowd: A Princess and the Twins Speak Up for Homeless Pups

By Chris Daigle

Two very special animals, and those who worked to save them, came together on September 7 for the 14th Annual Fierce and Fabulous Soiree at the new Post Oak Hotel in Houston’s Galleria area.

Hosted by Houston Petset, an umbrella organization that provides grants to other animal non-profits in the greater Houston area, it was two rescue dogs from K-9 Angels Rescue that garnered most of the attention at the glam-filled event.

Kourtey Kadrich with Esperanza

Kourtney Kadrich with K-9 Angels Rescue poses with Esperanza, a black and white pit bull hoping for a forever home (Photo: Chris Daigle)

The goal of Houston Petset is to help those who are “in the trenches” on a daily basis, rescuing, spaying, neutering, fostering, adopting and protecting Houston’s animals. Houston Petset believes that the animal homelessness problem in our community has a solution.

There to greet the 400 party goers was Kourtney Kadrich and Esperanza, a young black and white pit bull, adoptable through K-9 Angels in Houston. “She was found on the streets, and K-9 Angels took over her care,’ said Kadrich. “We rescue about 1,000 a year. She was brought back to health, and she needs a forever home. She loves to cuddle and loves to be the center of attention.”

Sherry Sara with K-9 Angels Rescue in the Heights came with a cute fluffball named Einstein, who is about one year old, and available for adoption. Einstein adored all the attention and became friends with every guest in the room.

The program was emceed by KHOU Channel 11 Morning Show host Deborah Duncan. Faces in the crowd included Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and wife Gwen, former Astro Jeff Bagwell and wife Rachel, Sue and Lester Smith, Courtney Hopson, Neal Hamill of Carnan Properties, Joanne King Herring, Courtney and Bill Toomey, Frances Moody, Vivian Wise, and KPRC weathercaster Frank Billingsley.

Idential twins Tama Lindquist and Tena Lindquist Faust

Identical twins Tama Lindquist and Tena Lindquist Faust discuss the mission and accomplishments of Houston Petset (Photo: Chris Daigle)

The high energy gala chairs this year were identical twins Tama Lindquist, and Tena Lindquist Faust. Co-Chairing this year was Princess Tatiana Sierra, whose father, Prince Piotr Galitzine, is from Russian aristocracy, and her mother, Princess Maria-Anna Habsburg, is the Belgian-born granddaughter of Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, the Austrian royal family deposed at the end of World War I.

Few are more dedicated to the welfare of animals that Susan and Dan Boggio, the event’s honorees. Susan is the current Board Chair for UNICEF-USA, and with Dan, were honored for their dedication to alleviate the homelessness and suffering of our community’s animals. They foster many animals at once, and Susan personally goes out on the streets to rescue animals she has seen or heard are in danger. They financially support animal welfare organizations as well. In accepting the award, Susan repeated her heartfelt motto, “There’s nothing more important in the world one can ever do than improve the quality of life and relieve the suffering of others, whether human or animal.”

Tama Lindquist, Tena Lindquist Faust, Susan and Dan Boggio, Princess Tatiana Sierra

The gala’s honorees, Susan and Dan Boggio (center) are congratulated by (L-R): Tena Lindquist Faust, Tama Lindquist, and Princess Tatiana Sierra (Photo: Chris Daigle)

The evening capped off with a live auction, where auctioneer Jeff Smith raised big bucks for the pups, with bids on a winter catamaran trip, a New York City Broadway Experience, a Palmetto Bluff, SC four-night getaway and a Pawve dogtag necklace curated by Itouch Diamonds Jewelers, to raise a total of $500,000 to help even more animals in danger.

Esperanza and Einstein gave the event 8 paws up!

***

Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.

THE ASTRODOME SCOREBOARD: MEMORIES OF A MARVEL

By Chris Daigle

If you were born before 1988, it’s fair to say you spent part of your life in the Astrodome if you lived in Houston. It was like our collective living room that could hold 60,000 people at one time, sometimes even more than that. It was our memory factory.

Every sport, except perhaps curling or bobsled racing, was played at the “Dome.” Watching from high above, far removed from the action in its outfield perch above the action, whether it was football, baseball, tennis, boxing, basketball, auto racing or jumping over cars with a motorcycle, was the scoreboard.

This was not just any scoreboard. That never suited Roy Hofheinz as he planned the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was to be as grand as the building itself!

The “Home Run Spectacular,” as it was named, lasted 24 seasons in the Astrodome, and like its home, was never duplicated. It was the crowning jewel in a fantasy land; it has been witness to over 1,500 baseball victories; it has made us laugh and probably made some cry, but it always has been part of the lure of what makes the place so entertaining.

An event just wasn’t complete without the pictures and the lights that came on for an Oilers touchdown or an Astros home run. It was the one thing that could make an audience, from peanut vendors to players, stop and stare. It was as big as Texas, befitting a city, a stadium and an organization set on innovation and the future.

On September 5 1988, 40,000 lights shone for the last time at an Astros vs. Reds game to a sellout crowd. Gone, but not forgotten, the 474-foot scoreboard was silenced to make room for 10,000 more seats and boxes for a future that never came.

Okay, okay, no sniveling now. Logic tells us that there is no point in getting all sentimental over a scoreboard. It was nothing but half a mile of wiring, fuses, circuits, bulbs and transistors. Never mind that at 474 feet, it was longer that the football field it presided over. It was just a machine. Of course, millions of us did have a relationship with the Great wall of Houston during the 23-and-a-half years it entertained us.

When the Astrodome opened in April, 1965, the scoreboard was the wildest wonder of them all in the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It carried the art form of scoring a game to the next level, when we didn’t know there could be another level.

Bill Veeck had introduced the concept of adding fireworks with the ball scores in Chicago, 10 years before. But the Astrodome gave us that much, and more: Electronic cheerleading, cartoons, and a Wild West show. When we referred to the scoreboard, we really meant the Home Run Spectacular. Whenever a member of the home team parked a ball into the seats, bulls snorted, six shooters went off, a cowboy whirled a lariat, stars danced across the cosmos and the Texas flag was raised in tribute.

To compensate for those stretches when the Astros suffered a power shortage, they touched off the board after every home victory. It was the surest way to keep the fans in their seats until the end of the game.

Opposing pitchers hated the animated scoreboard with a passion, as though the antics shown were a personal commentary on their skills. One year, the New York Mets struck back: After a Mets home run, teammates all jumped out of the dugout, each waving a sparkler. Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher engaged in a kind of “Tom and Jerry” cartoon with Bill Giles, the original keeper of the switches for the scoreboard. Giles programmed the computer that fed information to the scoreboard. He said, “Every time Leo went to the mound to change pitchers, I’d put a comment on the board about it. Once, Leo got furious and called me every name in the book, then ripped out the dugout phone.”

Later, in one of those ironies so dear to sports, Leo became the manager of the Houston Astros, and suddenly the scoreboard was great.

Another critic of the scoreboard, and its alter ego, was Dick Young, the gray eminence of the New York tabloids, traveling with the Mets in a 24-inning game at the Dome. The game lasted till well past midnight, violating the curfew of many in the crowd. Unfortunately, it was Boy Scout night at the Astrodome. Bill Giles said, “I put on the board the line, ‘Sex Will Never Replace Night Baseball.’”

Giles defended himself for that, saying, “Well, it was around 2 in the morning. But Dick Young wrote that I ought to be barred from baseball, that it was a disgrace, putting up that message in front of those Boy Scouts.”

Bill Giles with scoreboard

Bill Giles, Director of Public Relations for the Houston Astros, sits at the control board of the Astrodome scoreboard in 1969, tapping out messages that delighted fans and angered opposing teams.

Other adventures with the scoreboard involved upsetting umpires who charged that the Astros were using the scoreboard to intimidate umpires after the message, “Kibler did it again” was shown. This was in reference to umpire John Kibler, who had just ejected a Houston player for the second game in a row. When an aging Willie Mays hit his 550th career home run, the message was, “This is your captain speaking, we are passing through some turbulence, fasten your seat belts.” In a 1967 game, when Giants pitcher Ray Sadecki threw to first base nine straight times, the message was, “This is ridiculous!”

And now, in the name of progress, it’s been 30 years since the bull roared and the ball flew, and the stars sparkled, and we all applauded. History was replaced with 10,000 seats to appease Oilers owner Bud Adams, who took the Oilers to Tennessee anyway and named them the Titans. The seats are still there; only we are not. For now, scoreboard watching will be a little less fun for the Boy Scout in each of us.

***

Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.