The Astrodome Is Our Roman Colosseum and We're Going to Tear It Down
Forgotten, but not yet gone.
Photo by Jeff Balke
When the Roman Colosseum was built, it was a sports stadium, the first of its kind and a spectacle like nothing seen before. It was iconic beyond what took place inside, but the atrocities and spectacular events that did occur inside the building added to its mystique. It became a symbol of Rome, so much so that it is certainly the most iconic structure in the city to this day.
Remind you of anything? When the comparison to the Astrodome first grazes your cerebral cortex, the reaction might go something like, "Are you crazy? The Astrodome is NOTHING like the Colosseum." But then imagine it preserved 1,000 years from now and try again.
While the Astrodome was built as simply a sports stadium, it transcended that oversimplification because of the iconic nature of the building itself, nevermind the spectacles that took place inside. It was the first indoor stadium with turf invented specifically for its design. It became the standard by which other stadiums were measured and the turf is still widely used for more than just stadiums. Inside, it helped break down gender barriers, opened the country's eyes to the excitement of college basketball (and inadvertently created a multi-billion dollar business in the process) and, in retirement, provided shelter for thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors.
The Astrodome is the single most identifiable structure in the city of Houston by a wide margin. It is our Roman Colosseum.
Yet here we stand, a rejected bond deal in hand and the wrecking ball around the corner. The arguments against saving the Dome were that it was too expensive to repair or it was the wrong plan. But in other parts of the world, they don't care what it takes to preserve their history. The Colosseum has undergone massive renovations over the years and no one batted an eye or thought about tearing it down in favor of parking garages or apartment buildings -- both no doubt highly sought after in a crowded city like Rome.
New York hasn't replaced the Statue of Liberty with luxury condos. Greece isn't imploding the Parthenon in favor of a 5-star restaurant. The Pyramids aren't up for sale in Cairo.
But, the "Eighth Wonder of the World" will likely soon become a parking garage, which is incredible when you stop and realize that, for Houston, the Astrodome is our Statue of Liberty, our Parthenon, our Great Pyramid at Giza. Instead of understanding this simple fact and preserving our history for future generations, we argued and haggled and ultimately failed the Dome and ourselves.
It makes sense because we treat history around these parts with the casualness a child has for a plastic dollhouse. We tear down old wooden bungalows in historic neighborhoods in favor of four stucco town homes crammed to the lot line with no yard and about as much character as the dozens of strip malls that line our freeways. Our historic preservation ordinance is a catastrophic joke that leaves virtually any structure free to be condemned and replaced by developers with any thing they damn well please.
But, having grown up in Houston and knowing what I know about the lack of sanctity for our history, I still believed (incorrectly) that the Astrodome was different, something on a grander scale that we could all see was worth not just saving, but protecting and treasuring. Clearly, I was wrong.
Of course we need only look at the dreadful state of disrepair that has befallen the Dome to understand where our priorities lie. Like a discarded toy, we let it sit, rotting for years before throwing a desperate Hail Mary at the last second. Unlike other man-made wonders of the world, the Astrodome will not be struck down by an earthquake like the Colossus of Rhodes or destroyed by fire like the Library at Alexandria.
No, the Astrodome's destruction is a conscious choice we have made. When the wrecking ball does finally come, it will be because of our own neglect, laziness and greed. Maybe Houston is like ancient Rome after all, just without the vomitories, the gladiators and now without our Colosseum.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.