Tear the Dome Down If You Must, But Not for a Freaking Parking Garage
I have spent most of my 44 years on this earth in the city of Houston. I started visiting the Astrodome when I was just a kid for Astros and Oilers games as well as the occasional high school football game. I even walked on the floor for one of them. After all the memories and all the discussions, I don't have a tremendous amount of sentimentality for the old girl. My life would certainly go on if it was torn down just as it did when they shuttered Astroworld or when they imploded the Shamrock Hotel.
Photo by Jeff Balke
But, for the love of all that's holy, if the powers that be are going to, once and for all, demolish the only true identifiable Houston landmark, why must it be for a parking structure?
The truth is blowing up the Astrodome to build a parking garage for VIP parking would be in character for our city. We live in a city where historic preservation may as well be a four-letter word. The laws -- and I use that term extremely loosely -- governing what can be protected are so lax that virtually anyone with a bulldozer and a wad of cash can shred any structure in the city and build whatever they goddamn well please on the piece of dirt that remains.
Most believe that the plan for the Dome has been set in motion for some time. With a limited deadline in place and few real solutions -- at least ones that have monetary backing -- it seems a foregone conclusion that the Texans and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will get their wish and teardown the Eighth Wonder of the World to be replaced by a place you park your luxury SUV.
(Of course, if they wanted that, they have a GIANT FREAKING EMPTY LOT DIRECTLY ACROSS THE FREEWAY ATTACHED WITH A BRIDGE, but that would make far too much sense.)
I've heard people complain that they are sick of hearing the argument and we should just tear down this old, sad, rotting structure. Fact is, the structure isn't rotting. Sure, the seats are. The sheetrock is. But the bones of the building are in fine condition. It has held up against multiple hurricanes and housed the victims of one of the most devastating disasters in U.S. history, a shelter for those no one else wanted. And this is how we repay that memory?
There is also the old "whatever we do, it should be cost neutral" argument. Yes, because everything good in this world must turn a profit. I'm fairly certain no one in Paris worries that the Eiffel Tower doesn't earn money. The Roman Coliseum is anything but cheap to maintain, yet the folks in Italy aren't clamoring for it to be torn down so they can put in some luxury condos. And before you start in on the whole "You can't compare those places to a football stadium," the Astrodome is modern history's version of an architectural marvel. It was the first of its kind and it is to Houston what those other iconic structures are to their cities, just a little younger.
But, I've resigned myself to the fact that it will probably be demolished. I've even given myself up to the notion that something not terribly interesting will be put in its place. But I cannot stomach the idea of a giant, concrete place to park your car so you won't get wet when it rains. It makes me sick and I assume Judge Hofheinz is spinning in his grave at the very idea. It's no wonder NASA won't let us have a space shuttle. We'd probably break it down for scrap and use the space it was in to build some cheap apartment housing.
We landed a man on the moon. We turned a swamp into a thriving, diverse city. We dug a ditch that became one of the biggest ports in the world. We went from a blue collar oil town to a white collar energy city to a high tech, independently driven metropolis that has been praised by virtually every publication that can lay ink to a page in the last 12 months.
Yet, here we are, about to make a decision to tear down the Astrodome and replace it with a parking garage that won't even improve traffic (it will make it worse, in fact). We invented nanotechnology and the artificial heart, but we can't figure out how to preserve the Astrodome? Judge Hofheinz, Red Adair, the Allen Brothers, Denton Cooley, Michael DeBakey, Neil Armstrong and every other fearless Houstonian who dared to try something crazy should drive over the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and slap every single person in the building in the face for even thinking for one second that a parking garage was a good replacement for the Eighth Wonder of the World. It would be, frankly, better than they deserve.