Houston: 1st Class? Or No Class?

Astrowomb Late 1964 Early 1965

Astrowomb
Late 1964
Early 1965

On Memorial Day, I concluded my column with this unrelated note on a new article about the Astrodome:

… and while we’re at it, let’s also “Remember the Astrodome” beyond today and into all the tomorrows that shall ever be. A writer named Jere Longman has written one of the best articles we’ve ever seen this morning on why the grand old girl of Houston’s place in architectural history should be spared the ignominy of the wrecking ball. We also want to thank friends Tal Smith and Darrell Pittman for alerting The Pecan Park Eagle to the story. The Astrodome truly is – Houston’s Eiffel Tower.

Check it out:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/sports/houstons-astrodome-may-be-dirty-and-dated-but-it-is-irreplaceable.html?_r=1&

Longman’s essay makes the case for saving the Astrodome better than any other I’ve seen to date. The author makes the case for how important the venue was to his family in childhood when they made those special trips from Louisiana to Houston for the experience of watching air-conditioned baseball indoors, but he also builds on the special place that the Astrodome holds in architectural history.

Quoting James Glassman, a Houston preservationist, Longman calls the Astrodome “the city’s Eiffel Tower” and the “physical manifestation of Houston’s soul.”  He adds that New York could afford to tear down old Yankee Stadium, according to Glassman, because the Big Apple had hundreds of other signature landmarks. Not Houston. No matter how shabby it now appears in the darkness of abandonment from useful purpose, the Astrodome bears a patina of importance to the history of architecture that the shiny presence of its Reliant Stadium nearby neighbor shall never carry, even if it gets another three Super Bowl awards over the next forty years.

The value of the Astrodome is in what it represents in Houston to the history and forever unfolding future of architecture in this whole world. You don’t take the wrecking ball to the Eiffel Tower equivalent on our hallowed Texas coastal prairie.

The Astrodome must be redeveloped in service to some new purpose. There is no other viable option. Anything less, demolition or the degrading continuation of subsidized abandonment, is unacceptable.

How we answer this question now is then a referendum on Houston as either a world class or no class city. There are no intermediate categories. Restore this grand old girl to some useful new purpose and we are world-class. Tear it down, or continue to subsidize decay, and we are rightfully deserving of the “no class” designation.

Houston did not rise in the world by being a “sit-on-its-rump” do nothing city when it came to economic development through the port, oil, medical, and aerospace industries. And thousands became monetarily rich in the process. Now its time for those who have “done well” to rise above their “make-more-parking-spaces-of-it” mentalities and apply that vision and wealth to the matter of saving the Astrodome for its historical and ongoing value to the world.

If you are going to spend your time, effort, and money for anything worthwhile, folks, please do something this important for history. Save the Astrodome now – and spare the City of Houston the no-can-do/ no class assignation we shall both earn and deserve should we fail in this matter.

Now please go back to the link to Jere Longman’s article from the New York Times and read it again.

Please. Before it really is too late.

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8 Responses to “Houston: 1st Class? Or No Class?”

  1. materene Says:

    I think City Hall is really interested in tax dollars, they have never had any interest in saving any true history. If you live long enough in this world you will know without any reservation who in local government is truthful and honest, for over 40 years I have seen little of that trait in anyone in City Hall. I see the same old tired faces that have locked down their cushy jobs the same way DC does business, we can’t get rid of the deadwood. I think it was shameful that they allowed the Peden Building to be destroyed, for what! another stinking parking lot that will never be full. I hope I don’t see another parking lot on the Domes location, but it won’t surprise me.

  2. Anthony Cavender Says:

    I believe the bond issue that financed the building of the Dome was authorized by a a vote of the taxpayers. Therefore, Harris County may need the approval of the voters to demolish the building or do something entirely different with it. Another election should a force a public debate. Political indecision following the departure of the Oilers seems to have created this morass.
    In fairness, the City of Houston has authorized tax breaks to persons who are interested in preseving historic structures (ie, the Rice Hotel).

  3. materene Says:

    Please excuse my bitterness and brash responses, I have witnessed a slow demolishing of everything dear to me. Here is another great article, the comments below give a very good insight as to how a lot of people feel about the dome. I think if we could break it down to age groups it would be pretty evident who was in which group. Money always seem to be the number one reason for doing or not doing anything. Glad we made those Moon Landings while we had the time, and money!

    http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2012/05/consultants-recommend-270-million-plan-to-renovate-astrodome/

  4. mikey v Says:

    I would like to clarify one important thing- The county owns the Astrodome and the property. Not the city. This is a lack of leadership, but more importantly it’s a lack of any leader with courage. But please put the onus where it lies- Harris County.

    As to the City’s preservation record, it’s not perfect, but the City Government has recently worked hard to make sure that the preservation ordinance gets much stronger, establishing and then re-establishing 19 historic districts in the city wherein no property may be demolished. The CoH renovated an old warehouse into the City Permitting office. It’s a very cool place. And most importantly, the city worked with a special non-profit to renovate the old Julia Ideson Library Building into one of the two most impressive historic spaces in town. The other is the 1910 Courthouse which was done by the county and the state.

    And one more important point here- a property is not legally considered historic under most of these measures until it is 50 years old. By those standards we still have two more years for the Astrodome, but we should be pressuring the county commission NOW.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      I understand your points, Mike, but you’re scolding the choir with technicalities here. I know, and we locals know, that the onus fate of the Astrodome rests in the hands of a possible referendum vote by all citizens of the county and then with the actions then taken by Harris County Commissioner’s Court, but —-> to the big world that largely has little to no awareness of Harris County, the blame for failure here will be thrown on Houston’s doorstep, if the Dome goes down.

      As for your observation that the Dome is two years shy of historical status, I am relieved and assured to see that you understand that we cannot wait even that much time on a technicality before we start pressuring Commissioner’s Court.

      The time is now. It is in the county’s hands, but it is on the city’s face, if we fail to save the Astrodome NOW.

      • mikey v Says:

        Bill, With respect, Contacting the right people who can do something about the Dome’s fate is no technicality. I was responding to your commenter “Materene” who was raking “City Hall” over the coals for something that they have nothing to do with. It smacks of a partisan political viewpoint that is quite mis-aimed here.

        Having as many facts as one can gather when going into a fight such as saving the Dome is important.

  5. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Mike, I’m sorry if I came across in any way that seemed dismissive. That most certainly was not my intention. I was just taking the position that I felt most of us know where the authority rests in this matter; it’s with Harris County and, yes, we need all the facts we can muster going into a fight of this magnitude.

    Thank you for clarifying that you were responding to Materene’s reference to “City Hall” as a sign that everyone needs to be clear that it is the county, not the city, we are dealing with here. I see that now. I didn’t get it when I first responded to your initial comment.

    I think that Materene understands that it’s the county that holds the authority and ownership of the issue here, not “City Hall”, but that is all the more reason not to use “city hall” here, even as a generic term for governmental authority. It does matter that we all focus on pitching whatever we say to Harris County.

    I still want us all to be clear that, if the Dome goes down, the world will still blame Houston for it. Most of the people away from here probably couldn’t even tell you that we live in Harris County.

    But, yes, Mike, please bring all the facts you can – along with that bright mind and fighting spirit. Harris County and Houston both need you and all others who care enough to weigh in on the way the Astrodome fate is being handled.

  6. Shirley Virdon Says:

    Please, Houston, Save the Astrodome! It is so many things to your city—–certainly something that will never be duplicated again in anyone’s lifetime! What a magnificent
    building it was when I first saw it! I was so in awe of all of it and was so delighted to enjoy baseball in an air conditioned venue!
    Save the Dome for all of the people who never had the privilege of seeing it as it was truly “The Eighth Wonder of The World”!

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