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They should save the Astrodome because of … nostalgia?

May 28, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

Image (1) astrodome.jpg for post 6763

There’s a column in the New York Times today talking about the rusting, abandoned Houston Astrodome and how, in the author’s opinion, it should be spared the wrecking ball. The reason? Architectural appreciation and symbolism with a dash of nostalgia:

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 “It really set us on the road for a go-go future.”

I get that. But (a) there is no viable plan for the place; (b) any plan, good or bad, that involves keeping the building or most of it is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars; and (b) wrecking the thing, while really expensive, is going to cost way less.

It’s nice that people have fond memories of the place. And I’ll grant that the space age thinking and design that influenced the Astrodome is underrated in a weird way.  But the Astrodome is trapped in the valley where most buildings eventually find themselves: Not significant enough to save, but cool enough to make us a bit sad when it goes. And that aside, if places like Tiger Stadium don’t get spared there’s no way a just universe spares the Astrodome.

  1. mc1439 - May 28, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    There is a proposal to keep just the shell and put like random shops and places to eat for under 200 million. And I think the cheapest proposal would be 30 million to just knock it all down. I want the first one to happen, but I would be okay with all of it coming down. Either way, something needs to happen.

    • hackerjay - May 28, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      The problem with proposals to turn it into something like a mall is that malls are a dying breed themselves. So if they were to drop $200 million on it, there’s a good chance that in 10-20 years they will be right back at square one with a huge building that’s empty.

    • Marty McKee - May 28, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      I would love to know why it costs $30 million to knock a building down.

      • mckludge - May 28, 2013 at 2:47 PM

        If you aren’t concerned for public health and safety, you could do it for much less. Hell, sell sledgehammer swings for 50 cents each and it will pay for itself.

        But, if you want to make sure no one gets hits with falling debris or inhales concrete dust, it will cost you.

      • Marty McKee - May 28, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        I guess if nobody is standing beneath the wrecking ball when it smashes the wall, no one will get hit with falling debris. Cost of looking before smashing: zero. How much does a mask cost to cover the demolition man’s face to keep dust out? $3.00?

        Seriously, I would love to see an itemized bill. I honestly don’t know why it costs $30 million to knock a building down.

      • koufaxmitzvah - May 28, 2013 at 9:07 PM

        Which wall are you talking about, Marty?

      • drone501 - May 29, 2013 at 12:10 AM

        can you imagine how many rats and other varments will come running out of ther e if they blow this place up.

    • deep64blue - May 28, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      I would like to see the breakdown as well but do remember you don’t just have to knock it sown you have to do something with the debris which will be an expensive proposition.

      • deep64blue - May 28, 2013 at 5:00 PM

        Oh and it appears the $29 million includes building a parking lot.

  2. modernishfather - May 28, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    I love the Astrodome. Growing up near Houston, I spent a lot of time there watching the Astros and Oilers. It’s a treasured place from my childhood.

    That said, it’s time to let it go. The building is costing local taxpayers millions per year in (minimal) upkeep, and it’s not usable for anything in its current state other than wistful gazing for drivers on 610.

    • bigharold - May 28, 2013 at 4:50 PM

      At the time there was a move afoot to “save” the old Yankee Stadium with ideas ranging from a museum to keep it as a functioning ball park local schools. Not to denigrate the Astrodome or Huston but the dome doesn’t have half the history that the old Yankee Stadium had. So, demoing it is the best for all.

      It was a bad idea to keep the old Yankee Stadium and it’s a worse idea to keep the dome. Sometimes the past is best left in the past. Especially with old structures that will be nothing more than in the way draining taxes dollars that could be used to greater benefit.

  3. digbysellers - May 28, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    I was actually right there two weeks ago for a trade show that spanned the whole complex basically and to be honest it looked like the old dome was about ready to fall over on its own. Nobody was allowed to go in/out/around/etc it and there was a bunch of rusty looking pieces of metal and water stains all over the place. It was kinda disappointing to see something that used to be a held in such high regard being turned into a hunk of junk, but that’s about all it is now. I’d have to agree that it’s time for the wrecking ball to move on in.

  4. kopy - May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    It’s all about the money. With the way my city/state already throws around money on stadiums, I’d be upset if the cost of a nonviable one was also added to the bill.

    Sure, it’d be nice to keep the Astrodome around, but who’s going to pay for it?

  5. dracko19 - May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Doesn’t HOU get threatened by hurricanes occasionally?? Why not use it as a shelter and equip it as such?? I’m sure the govt would pitch in on the cost. Win win

    • sportbuff99 - May 28, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      I know it was a part of the government’s hurricane shelter system and it came through Ike with minimal damage. They did house some Katrina people there and it was fine then. Was Katrina really that long ago that the Astrodome has become rusted out?

      That said, the building lost a lot of its soul when they added the extra seats to keep the Oilers in town for a few more seasons. I wonder if the NFL might push to get it completely out of the way to use the space for Super Bowl LI.

  6. aceshigh11 - May 28, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    We REALLY should save the Astrodrome for when the next Republican President needs to warehouse a bunch of poor negroes when it decides to let a Democrat[sic] city drown to death.

    After all, it’s better housing than “those people” are used to, according to Babs Bush.

    Whoo boy…talk about throwing red meat…I can’t wait for the replies.

    • Kevin S. - May 28, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      I’d like to say it’s shocking that the entire country comes together when a red state suffers a disaster but Republicans fuck things up when it’s a blue area in trouble, but sadly it’s not.

      • kopy - May 28, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        Are you saying Katrina hit a blue area?

      • Kevin S. - May 28, 2013 at 1:48 PM

        Louisana isn’t, but New Orleans, which took the brunt of the damage, is.

      • hackerjay - May 28, 2013 at 2:20 PM

        Exactly. Remember 9/11 the way the whole country came together because New York City is such a bastion of conservative thought?

  7. hk62 - May 28, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    The fact that someone is trying to save a building in HOU (I was born and raised there – went to U of H, saw many events at the Dome) is a commendable occurance. So much of Houston’s history has always just been wiped away in the name of progress. The fact that the building in question is the dome is the sad part. There really is no economically viable way to retain it. It has to come down – only logical thing to do. Put the world’s largest parking garage there and run the light rail to Minute Maid + the Toyota Center.

    When I was in college, my girl friend (now wife) and I used to sit in the first row in LF and talk to Jose Cruz – watched Nolan no-hit the Dodgers from there. Still has to come down, they can sell the destruction film rights to Hollywood (ala the King Dome in Seattle) –

  8. sdelmonte - May 28, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    There are always people in the architecture world who want to preserve everything. I think it’s a backlash against the careless destruction of landmarks like the old Penn Station in NYC.

  9. Old Gator - May 28, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    I think they should ask Criterion to save a few reels of Brewster McCloud and then either find something useful to do with that derelict rat nursery or blow it up and get rid of it.

  10. shanabartels - May 28, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Texas and I’m not familiar with the specifics of the neighborhood where the Astrodome is located. As far as I can tell, that area is more commercial than residential, but Texas has very little in the way of zoning regulations to begin with. I do have a degree in Metropolitan Studies, but I’m just saying, I’ve never walked around the neighborhood (ha… it’s probably not too pedestrian-friendly) or studied it in depth.

    That said, keeping a rotting dead structure up like that is highly impractical — just like a so-called dead mall or any other abandoned greyfield site that used to draw consumers and activity but no longer serves that purpose, it’s wasting space that could be used for some kind of active purpose. I really hate the idea of making it into a parking lot — there must be something better they could do with that land. It could be a mixed-use retail/office/residential community or a park or a number of other things. Get creative, Houston.

    I admittedly have limited knowledge about Houston, but what I do know about is New York and its spotty history with urban renewal. It sucks that there are projects where Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds used to stand. I completely understand that the projects had to go somewhere, and I don’t begrudge anyone that, but there’s basically no trace of Ebbets Field and the only remnant of the Polo Grounds is a rotting staircase that you wouldn’t know was there unless you were looking for it. I’m not saying these outdated structures should have been preserved in all their glory up to the present day just so kids could go on field trips to an empty stadium like “Hey look, the Dodgers used to play here.” We can’t turn major league stadiums into museums. But they could have preserved more of it than they did so people of my generation might have at least been able to see SOME remnant of what used to be there — more than just a rotting staircase.

    And yeah, I frankly can’t get warm and fuzzy about a domed place that looks like the Trop to me — call it east coast bias or whatever, I’m from New Jersey and the idea of baseball under a dome kind of nauseates me. It just feels wrong. But I know people from Texas have a lot more nostalgia for the place than I do. If the city could move forward with a plan that would preserve some interesting aspects of the Astrodome but update it for some kind of productive use, wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems and be worth the cost of renovation? I don’t see why it’s taken so long to make a decision about it.

    One day, we’re going to be having this talk about Fenway and Wrigley, because engineers have said that those stadiums might only be viable for 50 more years or so with renovations. It’s going to hurt. I hope by that point, we will have figured out the right balance of preservation and redevelopment.

    • alamosweet - May 28, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      What distinguishes the Astrodome is its iconic shape, a truly singular and era-defining silhouette on the Houston landscape. What they do with the space means less to me (a native Houstonian) than the preservation of that silhouette.

      Basically, if it’s worth it for any city to preserve any building, Houston should preserve the Astrodome, at least in form if not in function.

      • shanabartels - May 28, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        So you like the idea of keeping the framework up and using the space for a shopping mall or something?

      • alamosweet - May 29, 2013 at 9:32 AM

        I like the idea of doing something interesting with it. A shopping mall is a terrible idea. While I don’t have the architectural or civic chops to come up with a better idea, somebody does.

  11. ashoreinhawaii - May 28, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    Wasn’t the greatest event ever held there a basketball game? UCLA vs. Houston.
    The Astrodome represents the first big mistake, fake turf, in a long line of mistakes baseball has made:
    Bowie Kuhn
    Designated Hitter
    3 to 4 minutes between innings, instead of 1, for TV commercials
    Wild Card – used to have to win something for a shot at the Series
    Calling it the Eiffel Tower of Houston is appropriate irony, as Houston is as ugly as Paris is beautiful. Using the term Camelot-era to describe anything Texan is also ironic, as so many of its people cheered the end of that era, and now do everything to keep it from coming back.

    • alamosweet - May 28, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      You’re blaming the Astrodome for the designated hitter?

      • ashoreinhawaii - May 28, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        Not what I said. Please reread my comments.

  12. onbucky96 - May 28, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    To quote The Bloodhound Gang ” We don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn. Burn motherfucker, burn”. A little harsh, but that place is a dump.

  13. stex52 - May 28, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    I have a long history with the Dome. I was there for the first game in 1965. I was there for the last regular season game ever played there. I was there for the no-hitter that clinched the 1986 NL West title. And dozens in between.

    But they have taken so long because they don’t have a an alternative that makes a lot of sense. They just don’t want to tear it down. It costs 3 MM$ /yr just to maintain at the level it is. The 30 MM$ to demo is artificially high. It assumes tearing out the monstrous concrete foundation that was put under it. But there is no need to do that. Most think 15 MM$ is closer.

    I will hate it when it happens. But if they could tear down Yankee stadium, how can you say they can’t take out the Dome? Just do it.

    • drone501 - May 29, 2013 at 12:14 AM

      didn’t mickey mantle hit the first homerun in the astrodome?

      • trollingforjustice - May 29, 2013 at 2:43 PM

        yes mantle hit the first homerun there,but it was an exhibition game. i remember when they experimented using different colored baseballs because the fielders couldnt see the white against the dome was popular for awhile

  14. sportsdrenched - May 28, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    If it’s not worth anything, and the land isn’t worth anything, (if it were valuable someone would have made an offer on it, right?) Why does it have to cost anything? Just cut the power, clean out the pipes, remove anything else that might be hazardous, put up a fence and let nature take it’s course?

    You could essentially donate it to science. And the only cost to the city/county is the lost property tax revenue.

  15. Minoring In Baseball - May 30, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    Well…there’s always the fact that ‘The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training’ took place there. But, no, if a classic like Tiger Stadium had to go…

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