Houston 101

Houston's Biggest Blunders: The Astrodome

Houston is a wonderful place, but we have made more than our share of mistakes over the years. From traffic to tear downs, sprawl to self promotion, we have found ourselves cleaning up the messes of former Houstonians for decades. We hope this series will help illuminate some of the issues and maybe even spur us on to find some solutions.

It's kind of amazing, all the hoopla surrounding the half-century birthday of the Astrodome, when you consider the neglect it has suffered for nearly 20 of those last 50 years. It is abundantly clear from the celebration and the feel-good stories, never mind the sale of anything related to the Dome let alone seats and other formerly attached memorabilia, that people love the Eighth Wonder of the World, just not enough to do anything about it.

When the Oilers announced they were moving to Tennessee and the Astros took their game downtown to Enron Field Minute Maid Park, no one bothered to even consider what might happen to Houston's most recognizable landmark. And there still doesn't seem to be a plan on the table that hasn't been hashed over more than once.

Of course, much of this stems from our city's complete disinterest in anything resembling historic preservation (more on that in an upcoming installment). "Use 'em and lose 'em" is practically a slogan describing how we deal with virtually every structure in Houston including arguably the most important building ever constructed here.

It also doesn't help that everyone associates the Astrodome with sports and, in many cases, not terribly fond memories. The proudest moments in the Dome's history are likely the Luv Ya Blue rally when beloved former Oilers coach Bum Phillips promised, after knocking on the door to the Super Bowl, the next season they were going to "kick the son of a bitch in," and the shelter it provided for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

You might also include the "Game of the Century" between University of Houston and UCLA, tennis's "Battle of the Sexes" and some memorable boxing matches to the list of highlights, but the two teams that occupied the facility most of the time were about as underwhelming in their success as teams could be -- Mike Scott's no-hitter and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson's end zone dances notwithstanding.

Since we have all considered it a stadium for so long -- one that is at the center of so much heartbreak -- it is hard to imagine it as anything else, and maybe that is as much a reason for our lack of action as anything.

Whatever the case, parties and t-shirts are all well and good, but until someone comes up with a legitimate reason to keep the old girl standing, it will still be a black mark and a source of public shame, and remain one of the city's greatest mistakes.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke