The Doomed Dome

Forgotten, but not yet gone.
Jeff Balke

Highlights from Hair Balls

Spaced City

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 for Rome, so much so that it is certainly the structure most representative of 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, never mind 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 multibillion-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 that 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 five-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 to 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 townhomes 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 anything 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.


Lawyers Call for a Judge's Ouster
Pratt on firing line.

Craig Malisow

Thirty-two family law attorneys have signed a letter calling for the resignation of Harris County Family Court Judge Denise Pratt, who is accused of backdating records.

Lawyer Greg Enos of Webster last month filed a complaint against Pratt with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, likening her to "a 4th grader who, on the day after parents got the report with the 'F' for not doing homework, stayed up late and did her homework assignments and dated them six weeks before."

Pratt's lead clerk retired after Enos publicly aired his complaint.

The Houston Chronicle reported that "county and other sources" say the DA's office's public integrity unit is "looking into" Enos's allegations and "has contacted attorneys to arrange interviews."

According to Enos, Pratt would "rush and create an order or ruling and backdate the document as if she had done what she was supposed to have done weeks or months before" only when the Court of Appeals — or Enos, in his newsletter — "publicly chastised" the judge.

Now Enos has found some confederates to publicly back him up: Thirty-two attorneys have put their names to a letter, dated November 3 and sent to other family lawyers, asking them "to join in our effort to get Judge Denise Pratt off the bench for the good of the family bar, the families and children of Harris County, and the many excellent family court judges whose re-elections might be endangered with Judge Pratt on the same ballot with them."

The letter states that the lawyers who signed their names are "'sticking our necks out' to stand up for what is right" and are asking others to contact the DA's Public Integrity Unit if they know of other backdated orders.

It also states: "For too long, a 'Code of Silence' has prevailed in family law that kept attorneys from speaking out about Judges who were really, really bad and not following the law [sic].....speaking out about this very serious situation is the right thing to do and will ultimately protect our current and future clients."

We've reached out to Pratt for a comment and will update if and when we hear back. We've also reached out to some of the attorneys listed under the "prior endorsements" section on her site and will also update accordingly.

According to Pratt's campaign Web site, she was appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas Board of Social Worker Examiners in 2007, and is a member of the Texas Tea Party Republican Women, Magic Circle Republican Women, Daughters of Liberty, Ronald Reagan Republican Women and others.

The "prior endorsements" listed on her site include the Houston Police Officers' Union, the Houston Chronicle and the National Latino Peace Officers' Association-Southeast Harris County Chapter, among others.

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