Opened in 1975, the Compaq Center, formerly known as "The Summit", has served as the
home of the Houston Rockets, and is also home to the WNBA Houston Comets as well the
minor league hockey Houston Aeros. With two NBA championships in the 90's, a WNBA
franchise that has pretty much owned their league since play started, and both Avco Cup
and Turner Cup trophies on the ice, it can be said that this venue has been the proud
home of Houston's greatest moments in sports. But with the opening of Houston's new
downtown arena less than a year away, the curtain is about to fall on this building, and
plans are in the works to convert "The Summit" to a house of worship.
Getting to the venue
The Compaq Center is located about three miles west of downtown Houston, and is
nestled in an area surrounded by mid rise office buildings, all new and gleaming and
impeccably landscaped, along with parking ramps and the occasional commercial strip and
chain restaurant. By car one can take the US 59 expressway and exit at the road marked
Buffalo Speedway, and just follow the signs. Richmond Street is the main east west road
running by the arena. Public bus transportation is also available. Parking is plentiful at the
Greenway Plaza parking garage, as well as several other parking ramps all within a three
block radius going north, west or east (US 59 borders the venue from the south).
Outside the venue
The building itself has a brown facade with smoked brown glass accents, and the prettiest
area is on the west side of the arena. There is a circular road and drop off area leading to
a main entrance, and that is where ticket and will call windows can be found. Here the
sloped area is nicely landscaped, and directly across the street is a small park. Nice
greenspace in a vibrant urban setting. The area is totally lacking in residential ambience,
with neighborhoods to the south separated from the Compaq Center by the expressway.
Think office park and you get the picture.
The arena and concourses
This building is a typical single concourse venue which exemplified the design and
concepts of indoor venues built in that era. Similarly designed venues which we have
seen are Reunion Arena in Dallas and Miami Arena in Miami. Both of those arenas have
been replaced by their major tenants in the past couple years. One can enter the building
at concourse level on the west side, or at ground level on the east level, where a short
tunnel and escalators take you into the concourse.
The concourses here are dark, and that sort of look is deliberate, as natural light peers
into the hallways from smoked brown glass windows, and floors are tiled brown as well.
Dim mood lighting lights the way at night, with decorative light fixtures on the poles. The
nicest and most festive area of the building is the north side concourse, which bows out
providing a wide gathering area, and here is a large food court, offering a wide choice of
food selections, and brightly lit and decorated concession canopies making for an
attractive space. The rest of the concourses are pretty ordinary. Each section has an
archway leading to the lower bowl, and accompanying staircases for upper seating.
The seating bowl
Even with 17,000 seats, this is a very intimate seating bowl, with two decks of seating, and
we would surmise that the top row of the building probably equates to the front row of the
upper deck at the Staples Center. All seats are colored kelly green, and we were told that
all seats were replaced in recent years. Interestingly, there is no center scoreboard in this
venue. The two scoreboards hang up above each end zone, with accompanying video
boards which are dark and fuzzy. Along the balcony are dot matrix boards offering out of
town scores, and some stationary ad panels.
Food items of note here include an Italian stand which advertises "Asian Food Available".
Yao Ming's arrival on the Houston scene has made a mark here. Corporate chains such as
TCBY, Pizza Hut, and Whataburger are also on the menu. (We saw "Whataburger" all over
the highways and byways of Texas, but never did stop to try it out... hope we didn't miss
anything) There is a small team merchandise store, which, strangely enough, also sells
trading cards and other memorabilia in cases that are kind of seedy looking. Not the nicest
of presentation here. There are also several satellite merchandise kiosks scattered
around the building. As we stated before, the food court area is the nicest part of the
This is the venue's biggest achilles heel, and the prime reason why the Houston Rockets
are moving on to greener pastures. There is NO club seating here, and the only higher
priced seats are located courtside. In addition, there are no club seat amenities anywhere
in the building. No lounges or restaurants anywhere. There are skyboxes which hang
gondola style high above the sidelines, but these are not the best of seats for basketball.
On the plus side, the lack of premium seats means that almost every seat in the house is
close to the playing surface.
Banners here are nicely organized into four groups - the first group is for the Rockets,
with two World Championship banners from '94 and '95, and two additional banners listing
their division and conference titles. The second group heralds the Comets 4 WNBA titles...
normally that earns a "roll of the eyes" from us, but the Comets have set the bar for
success in professional women's basketball, both on the court and in terms of fan
support, so in this case we tip our caps to the Houston Comets. The third group is for the
Houston Aeros, who have kept the team name and colors through the WHA (remember
Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty?) and the IHL, and this season have joined the
AHL. Lastly, the Rockets have hung banners honoring 5 players - Clyde Drexler, Calvin
Murphy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone and Rudy Tomjanovich, now serving as the
Rockets head coach.
Slam dunks, assists, fouls...
Slam dunk - props again to the members of the Bull Pen tailgate, namely Andrew and
Charles, who we hung out with for most of the game in the 3rd row end zone. They
provided names and stats for each cheerleader performing directly in front of us, and info
like that just can't be had in a program or on the 'net. Thanks guys!
Slam dunk - The Rockets received a dose of the USRT karma as they handled the inept
Cleveland Cavaliers by a 97 - 80 score. The Rockets Cuttino Mobley led a balanced Rocket
attack with 19 points and everyone's favorite 7' 5" Chinese rookie sensation chipped in
with 9 points and six boards.
Foul - to the Rockets Moochie Norris, Moochie is known around the NBA for having one of
the most flamboyant and outrageous "afro" haircuts in all of sports. What a bitter
disappointment it was for us then to see him decked out in....corn rows. We did not come
1600 miles from Buffalo to see that!!!
Slam Dunk - getting to meet up with Calvin Murphy, not only is he one of the great icons of
Rockets basketball but also a man with ties to our Western NY home. Calvin is quite
possibly the finest player ever to come through Niagara University and the chance to see
him up close and in person was quite a thrill!
Assist (flashback to '94) - STARKS FOR THREE...AND THE WIN.....(CLANG)...sorry, that was
Peter, the diehard Knicks fan reliving the dying seconds of Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals
while first setting foot in the Compaq Center. Poor Peter, 29 years following his Knicks and
Props go to Nelson Luis, Rockets Director of Media Relations. Nelson set us up with photo
credentials, a parking pass, and took some time to show us some of the features of the
building. Thanks too to Heather Dining and Armando Wood from the sales staff, who
earlier in the day spent time with us at the sales center downtown giving us a tour of the
exhibits of the new downtown arena. And BIG hugs go out to our favorite Houstonian,
Yvette Casares of the Houston Astros, who made the call to her colleagues at the Rockets
to announce our arrival.
You know, this really isn't such a bad place.. sleek rectangular building which compliments
the neighboring architecture nicely, a nice seating bowl with good views throughout, and
a building which we could best describe as "functional". But with new arenas being
entertainment centers as well as places to watch a game, the newer venues in the NBA
are passing the Compaq Center by, leaving this venue as an obsolete relic. In a way that is
sad but these are the times. We had the opportunity to get a real good feel for the new
Houston arena... downtown setting, nice. Architects are the same company that designed
Conseco Fieldhouse... very good. And the portraits and schematics give every indication
that the new arena will be spectacular. At this point we have to rank the Houston Rockets
and the Compaq Center in the lower echelon of NBA venues... our bet is that when you
hear from us again a year from now, the score is going to go up... perhaps dramatically.
RATING (1-5 stars): 2 STARS