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Astrodome: Dirty, but irreplaceable

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by basso, May 28, 2013.

  1. basso

    basso Member
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    from today's NYT

    [rquoter]Dirty and Dated, but Irreplaceable
    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.[/rquoter]

    and, linked in the article, a proposal to save the dome.

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  2. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    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.

    That is so freakin' true. Reliant reminds me of the blimp hanger that I could see on the way to Galveston, back in the day, except the blimp hanger was more exciting. It was on the right, going towards the island. I drove to it a few times and checked it out. Freaky.
     
  3. Nick

    Nick Member

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    Its a freakin football stadium. Most football stadiums (especially the domes) are going to look pretty boxy and ware-house ish from the outside because of the rectangular symmetrical nature of the football field (as opposed to baseball).

    I don't see all that much difference from the outside in comparison to other recent new NFL stadiums... and in the end, its all about the interior experience (for which Reliant is pretty damn good... not a bad seat in the house).

    Hell, even Glendale (which I feel is the best stadium in the NFL) looks rather out of place in the middle of a desert (I understand they tried to make it resemble a cactus... yes, a silver cactus... much more aesthetically pleasing).

    [​IMG]

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  4. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Member
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    I've said this before but Houston has no respect or sense of history. The Astrodome is one of the most important structures in modern architectural history yet people want to tear it down to put up more parking.
     
  5. Jontro

    Jontro Member

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    "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot..."

    Cept, it's not really paradise.
     
  6. TISNF

    TISNF Member

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  7. Caltex2

    Caltex2 Member

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    It's not that people want to tear it down so much as they've (including me) have run out of patience. It's an eye-sore now and costing taxpayers more and more for no apparent reason as time goes on.

    We all recognize the history and there are ways to still save some of the history, such as perhaps preserving the roof (I'm not in construction or demolition, so I'm not sure if that's possible) and moving it to a park display or museum. But now some 15 years since the last pro sports team played there, we should do anything but just let it sit there unused.
     
  8. Jontro

    Jontro Member

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    But where else are we going to put refugees in the event of another hurricane or natural disaster?
     
  9. Behad

    Behad Member

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    Put them here next time:
    [​IMG]
     
  10. justtxyank

    justtxyank Member

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    We should just leave it up, doing nothing but collecting dust, filled with asbestos and rats so that our children's children can drive by it in all that glory. This way when future generations think of the Astrodome they will think of it as a small eye sore that took up valuable land next to Reliant Stadium where the 5x Superbowl Champion Houston Texans play.

    If you want to be serious about letting it have its place in history, you should want it torn down or part of it moved somewhere else. Having it sit in the situation it is in does not leave a good impression with anyone seeing it for the first time.
     
  11. sammy

    sammy Member

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    I remember going to Astros game as a kid. I could barely see **** from the upperdeck.
     
  12. Dubious

    Dubious Member

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    Gut it, save the frame and roof in 'homage', convert it to covered parking with a climate controlled moving sidewalk directly into Reliant. NFL owners and bigwigs won't get cold, wet or have to walk.
     
  13. Surfguy

    Surfguy Member

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    I say convert it into a huge plane_arium along with laser light shows. Tout it as biggest in the world.
     
  14. morpheus133

    morpheus133 Member

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    If someone finds a worth while renovation idea for the dome that some investor is willing to go for then great, but otherwise what do you really want to keep it around for? Historical significance? Who drives over there just to look at the dome? You will always have pictures of it, video of it, and memories of it. The can even make a memorial for it. But if it isn't serving a purpose then how much will you really miss it after the fact? Lots of stadiums with great historical significance have been torn down over the years. Boston Garden, old Yankee Stadium, Candlestick Park, Tiger Stadium, Busch Stadium, among others are all gone. How many of those would you make a tourist trip specifically to go see if they were closed, and still standing, but all you could do is look at the deteriorating exterior? Most people won't do that. If they can't come up with an economical use for it, then demolish it. Make a small memorial site some where with a miniature model of the dome and information about it, so future generations will know it's history without having to keep a derelict building around.
     
  15. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Member
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    Y'all act like the only choices are to leave it as is or to tear it down. There are a lot of great ideas to do with Astrodome but it is a failure of leadership on the part of the city and developers to do anything with this. Off the top of my head I can think of at least 5 things that could be done with the dome starting with using it as convention space.
     
  16. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Member
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    Boston Garden, old Yankee Stadium and especially Candlestick none of those have the same significance (the first large scale modern dome) or the flexibility of use that the Astrodome does. The fact that it is a big enclosed space already makes it much more utilitarian than any of those examples.
     
  17. ima_drummer2k

    ima_drummer2k Member

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    All these lofty ideas, but no idea how much it's going to cost or who is going to pay for it.
     
  18. Brando2101

    Brando2101 Member

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    It could never work as a convention space. First, it would have to be completely gutted right to the edges of the outside wall. A huge chunk would have to be ripped out in order to create a loading dock that can accommodate a ton of trucks. Also, I don't know what you do about the fact that the floor of the dome is 20 feet below the ground. I don't think I have ever seen a proposal for the dome that makes sense. I think you tear it down but leave one little part of the outside wall with a little bit of the roof that is connected to it. You would have to build a couple more beams to support the triangular section.
     
  19. BE4RD

    BE4RD Member

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    Blow it up and put in more parking (make the Texans/HLSR help pay for it), or gut it and turn it into an outdoor pavilion (all public funds).
     
  20. SwoLy-D

    SwoLy-D Member

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    Can't "blow it up". Doing that will cause damage to Reliant Center and Stadium. :eek:
     

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