How do you preserve the first sports dome that voters rejected?
Prior to Election Day, it was widely speculated that demolition would begin almost immediately if Harris County did not pass Proposition 2, a bond measure to turn the Dome into the world’s largest special events space.
Fast forward to today, and we have a failed ballot initiative, but only the building’s non-historic features have come down. The intense “should it stay or should it go” chatter has quieted, and the Dome was noticeably absent from the agenda of the county’s last meeting…
Because the Astrodome is Harris County property, all eyes are on the judge and the county commissioners — the five elected officials who, sooner rather than later, will have to make the call. Since Election Day, this group has taken great care to consider the three most likely options: private development, a public-private partnership, or demolition.
In that time, they have not only expressed disappointment over low voter turnout, but that they still want to hear from people who want to save the Dome. Still.
I have to wonder if this kind of preservation effort is similar to efforts regarding Brutalist structures or modernist single-family homes. Is the Astrodome aesthetically pleasing? Is it worth trying to make something out of a building that was primarily for sports? The Astrodome might be significant because it was the first but that isn’t necessarily a good reason for having it around even longer. One has to appeal to a bigger cause – like the idea that midcentury architecture is worth preserving:
The Astrodome’s exterior is wrapped in a steady, repeating rhythm of slender columns, the space between them filled with concrete screens in a delicate diamond-shaped pattern. Seen from the parking lot outside, the dome resembles more than a few lightly ornamented postwar buildings around the country, including William Pereira’s Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which opened the same year…
Even if its attitude toward the environment now strikes us as deeply naive, the Astrodome deserves to be protected simply as a singular monument to the American confidence and Texas swagger of the 1960s. The stadium doesn’t so much symbolize as perfectly enclose a moment in time.
I would think the biggest reason for saving the Astrodome would be that it is a big piece of Houston history, a city that has come a long way in recent decades. It could serve a function similar to the Water Tower building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago: a reminder of an earlier era amidst bigger buildings.
We’ll see if the Astrodome is preserved and then what is done with the building.