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Astrodome: Astrodome: Dirty and Dated, but Irreplaceable

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by TISNF, May 27, 2013.

  1. TISNF

    TISNF Member

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    By JERÉ LONGMAN

    It is one of our enduring family photos from youth baseball: my sister dutifully in attendance, my father in a tie, my mother with a confectionary meringue of a bouffant. She looks like Peggy from “Mad Men,” and she is holding neither peanuts nor Cracker Jack but a can of bug spray.

    Then the Astrodome opened in 1965, and we took a couple of eager vacation trips to Houston from south Louisiana, where the temperature and humidity seemed surpassed only by the cholesterol count.

    We were excited and astonished to sit in air-conditioning to watch a baseball game, free of the need for any lotion, suntan or calamine. Finally, we could satisfy our itch for big-league ball without the itch of swarming mosquitoes.

    The Eighth Wonder of the World, as the Astrodome was nicknamed, with its 200-foot-tall roof and nine-acre footprint, became the most important, distinctive and influential stadium ever built in the United States.

    It gave us domed, all-purpose stadiums and artificial turf and expansive scoreboards. It gave us seminal respect for women’s sports when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at tennis in 1973. It gave us the inventor of the end zone dance in 1969, Elmo Wright of the University of Houston. It gave us the first prime-time national television audience for a regular-season college basketball game, with the famed 1968 meeting between Houston and U.C.L.A.

    So it was despairing to hear that the vacant Astrodome might be torn down and its site paved over as Houston prepares to host the 2017 Super Bowl. Demolition would be a failure of civic imagination, a betrayal of Houston’s greatness as a city of swaggering ambition, of dreamers who dispensed with zoning laws and any restraint on possibility.

    A recent drive past the abandoned Astrodome at night revealed it to be unlit. It has been closed since 2008. The stadium was visible in silhouette, like a waning moon.

    In daylight, however, beneath the dust and neglect, the Astrodome’s silvery exterior continues to summon a city’s innovative past and futuristic promise. By contrast, Reliant Stadium next door is a dull football arena, designed with all the imagination of a hangar to park a blimp.

    James Glassman, a Houston preservationist, calls the Astrodome the city’s Eiffel Tower and the “physical manifestation of Houston’s soul.” New York could afford to tear down old Yankee Stadium, Glassman said, because the city had hundreds of other signature landmarks. Not Houston. Along with oil, NASA and the pioneering heart surgeons Michael E. DeBakey and Denton A. Cooley, the technological marvel of the Astrodome put a young, yearning city on the global map.

    “There was a confluence of space-age, Camelot-era optimism, and we were right there,” said Glassman, founder of the Web site Houstorian.org. “It really set us on the road for a go-go future.”

    Houston’s best ideas bring clever solutions to tricky problems. The weed whacker was invented there in 1971 by a dance instructor and developer named George Ballas. He got the idea from whirling brushes at a car wash. His prototype consisted of an edger and fishing wire threaded through a can of popcorn.

    The Astrodome was built to solve a vexing conundrum: How to bring major league baseball to a city where the temperature could match the league leaders in runs batted in?

    For our first family trip, my sister got new clothes, including a red vinyl hat that made her look like the world’s youngest hotel doorman.

    “Honey, I had to get a new outfit,” she said. “We were going to the big city.”

    On an August weekend in 1966, we saw Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitch for the Dodgers against the Astros. We marveled at the animated scoreboard that celebrated home runs with a snorting bull and a pistol-firing cowboy. We screamed along with the bugling rally cry of “Charge!” We brought home a pennant, a souvenir batting helmet, pens in the shape of baseball bats.

    We also saw something no child should, our father pushed aside by another man while chasing a batting-practice home run.

    “Y’all were so put out,” my mother said.

    The Astrodome was the brainchild of Roy Hofheinz, a Barnumesque former mayor of Houston and county judge. He kept a stadium apartment that featured a putting green, a shooting gallery, a puppet theater and a bowling alley. A tour guide once described the décor to Sports Illustrated as “early whorehouse.” In Hofheinz’s view, invention was nothing without flamboyance.

    Mickey Mantle hit the first home run at the Astrodome in an exhibition game, causing the scoreboard to flash “Tilt.” Judy Garland, the Supremes, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson played concerts there. Muhammad Ali retained his heavyweight title. Evel Knievel jumped 13 cars on his motorcycle.

    The Republicans nominated President George H. W. Bush for re-election there in 1992. Robert Altman directed a movie called “Brewster McCloud” in the Astrodome. In 1986, the Mets and the Astros played 16 marathon innings in what was then the longest postseason baseball game. In 2005, a magnanimous civic gesture provided shelter for thousands of evacuees after Hurricane Katrina.

    What happens next for the Astrodome is anyone’s guess. As Houston sought the 2017 Super Bowl, Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner, did not call for the wrecking ball. But he said in March that additional parking for nearby Reliant Stadium could be “a very positive change” in Houston’s bid.

    The game was awarded to Houston last week. The Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo say the Astrodome could be imploded and replaced with 1,600 parking spaces for $29 million. Other officials say demolition would cost more than twice that much.

    What a dreary possibility, a stadium that hinted of the Jetsons bulldozed for a Super Bowl that may or may not feature the Jets.

    Demolition “would symbolize that we’ve just decided to quit,” said Ryan Slattery, whose master’s thesis in architecture at the University of Houston offers a different alternative.

    Slattery’s plan, which has gained traction, involves a vision of green space. He would strip the Astrodome to its steel skeleton, evoking the Eiffel Tower of sport, and install a park. It could be used for football tailgating, livestock exhibitions, recreational sports. Other ideas have been floated through the years, some more realistic than others: music pavilion, casino, movie studio, hotel, museum, shopping mall, indoor ski resort, amusement park.

    All private proposals for the Astrodome are due by June 10 to the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, which oversees the stadium.

    Legitimate debate can be had about whether the Astrodome’s innovations ultimately enhanced or detracted from the broader sporting experience. Whether indoor stadiums lend sterility. Whether artificial turf leaves players more vulnerable to injury. Whether we need scoreboards to tell us to cheer. Whether basketball played in giant arenas is an abomination.

    But the Astrodome is too essential to become a parking lot. Slattery is right when he says that Houston should not demolish the memory of its past but reimagine it for the future.



    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/s...-dirty-and-dated-but-it-is-irreplaceable.html
     
  2. JunkyardDwg

    JunkyardDwg Member

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    Really don't understand why they need more parking when they recently purchased the Astroworld lot for just that. They should turn it into green space but it probably won't happen.
     
  3. bobmarley

    bobmarley Member

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    Something like Discovery Green would be great!
     
  4. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    Dude is spot on about Reliant. Fugly as hell.
     
  5. Granville

    Granville Member

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    The Dome needs to be gone yesterday
     
  6. The Beard

    The Beard Member

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    Granville is just trying to fire people up, and get them upset. It's the one thing he/she is good at

    But on this point, he/she is right. It was a revolutionary building, and like all major sporting event homes it had it's highlights. But it will never again be a home of a major sports team, which is what it was built for. The city has got to let it go
     
  7. TISNF

    TISNF Member

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    Transit hub.
     
  8. justtxyank

    justtxyank Member

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    Yeah, that's what the Texans, The Rodeo and the Reliant park ownership want. Something that will add congestion to the grounds.
     
  9. NOLArocket

    NOLArocket Member

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    MONEY

    The real issue is that they will not put anything there that won't make money. It's all about the $$$ and especially with a Super Bowl coming to the area, any sort of business built there will be a cash cow. The only question what will it be? A hotel would not be able to sustain year-round successful business.
     
  10. Bear_Bryant

    Bear_Bryant Member

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    A hotel probably wouldn't be good year round but what about a nice resort? Houston doesn't really have one and I think it would be a great tourist attraction as well.

    Maybe use the same skeleton as the astrodome.
     
  11. TISNF

    TISNF Member

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    Seems to me that congestion isn't an issue in...congested cities with adequate mass transit.

    Follow me on this hypothetical fantasy here: if the Dome magically became a major transit hub -- where trains and buses would serve -- those added people (the "congestion") would get there via...train or bus.

    Meaning, the giant parking lot would still be just as accessible by tailgaters on gameday -- or even, dare I say it, less congested since folks could arrive by...mass transit??
     

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