Astrodome's Fate Decided Today? Good Lord, We Hope So

Categories: Spaced City

The honeymoon days.
The mayoral race hasn't generated much heat this year (which is fairly typical for Houston), but there are other reasons to hit the polls.

Besides votes on saving water and building new jail facilities, there is a ballot question that we can only hope puts to bed one way or the other the seemingly endless debate over what to do with the Astrodome.

Up for approval is a $217 million plan to convert the lower portions of the Dome into a multipurpose facility for trade shows, smaller concerts and similar events.

Does it make fiscal sense? Whatever answer you prefer, you can find a study to support it. So it comes down, really, to how you feel about the Dome. (A poll shows support for the issue, by 45 percent in favor to 35 percent against.)

Houston has had a tangled emotional history with the building. In five steps:

5. The planning
Houston was really just a remote outpost on the edge of the national consciousness in the early `60s, an exotic place full of crude neanderthal oilmen, with gaucherie abundant in its "fine arts" and nothing much to show beyond NASA. (How times have changed!?)

Still, a group of hucksters civic leaders convinced locals that a gigantic dome, with windows to let grass grow in it, would vault the city onto the world stage. That takes Dome-sized balls.

4. The honeymoon and golden days
If being a world-class city means lots of news reports featuring employees dressed as spacemen, then the Dome succeeded brilliantly. All but the most mosquito-loving Houstonians took to it immediately, even as the grass had to be replaced by an ugly rug. (Ugly rugs were all but mandated by homeowners associations in the `60s, so it wasn't much of an adjustment.)

Then came the high point: Luv Ya Blue.

The Astros had some good years in the building, but nothing ever touched the magic of Bum Phillips, Earl Cambell and the rest of the late-`70s Oilers. Houston thought they -- and the Dome -- would live forever.

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Again, HP shows its breathtaking ignorance of the Dome's history by reducing its importance to something some wild civic leaders came up with -- apparently completely overlooking the volumes of archival records showing how the Dome was, (like its salvation)   promoted and voted on in an age when visionary leaders were highly prized. As a media outlet they have not been on the Houston news landscape long enough to have their own first-hand impressions of the dome and so rely on cheesy pop impressions. They fail to grasp the significance of the Dome's value as the model and benchmark against which all future enclosed sports stadiums were measured with its numeral firsts, including AC, sky boxes, AstroTurf and a small host of other innovations unheard of or dared previously.  Since its construction it has defined Space City and still does today. When will these "pop" media outlets get a clue and stop trying to reduce irreducible historical culture to something more worthy of the Star tabloid?

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