I was all of 12 years old when I saw the Astrodome for the first time, and through the haze of years, I still remember how it rose majestically into the bright Texas sky, gleaming and magnif-icent and breathtaking.
I walked a few miles that afternoon of Sept. 4, 1965, never quite wrapping my mind around the fact that I was really in the place I’d dreamed of, read about and listened to Gene Elston describe during that first season of indoor baseball.
I was determined to soak it all in: the Domeskeller, world’s longest bar (and longest dugouts), plush seats, wide concourses and monstrous scoreboard that did all those magical things.
Unless you’re of a certain age — 40? 50? — you won’t understand the impact the Astrodome had on a couple of generations of Texans. In some ways, it defined what we were and what we could be.
It was the Eighth Wonder of the World before we got a new wonder every 20 seconds. While it represented one visionary man’s crazy dream — thank you, Roy Hofheinz — it was so much more than that.
It was a bunch of Texans doing something no one thought possible. They thought big and built big, and when they were done, it turned out better than we imagined it could be.
I remembered what the Astrodome once was the other day when I pulled into a parking lot at Reliant Stadium and was struck by how shabby it looks sitting next to a world-class facility.
Not looking so good
Its once beautiful white roof has become dark and dingy. Its facade is beginning to crumble, and the decay inside is said to be even worse. In other words, the Astrodome is falling apart.
No politician has the guts to say it ought to be torn down, and no one seems to have a reasonable plan to save it. Through the years, we’ve heard it was going to be a hotel or a mall or a museum.
So it sits there rotting away, and as the days pass, there’s less and less chance there’s anything worth saving.
But it is worth saving.
It just has to be. It represents too much to too many people. Yes, it would be unimaginably expensive, and it’s a tough argument to make at a time when we need money for schools and teachers and cops.
The Astrodome represents something important. It reflects our determination and sense of adventure.
I know, I know. Yankee Stadium was torn down. Tiger Stadium and Texas Stadium are gone. All that’s left of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium is the facade.
If those places weren’t worth keeping, it’s tough to make a case to save the Astrodome, especially since no one seems to know what to do with it anyway.
Here’s my two cents to the local politicians and the movers and shakers: do something.
All or nothing
If you’re going to fix it up, don’t think small. If you’re going to do nothing, then have the guts to tear it down.
What would Roy Hofheinz do? How about a hotel and a restaurant and a shopping area? How about we make it a destination? Yes, it would be expensive. Yes, it might fail. Again, what would Hofheinz do? He might just decide to take a chance.
Let’s do it right. Let’s make it bright and shiny and beautiful again. Transform it back to the kind of place where people stop and stare and remember the spirit of a great American city.
Let’s remember our past
Let’s include a museum telling the world what the Astrodome represented to Houston, how it was a powerful city of who we are and what we can accomplish when we set our minds to it.
The Astrodome of 1965 grabbed the imagination of an entire nation, spoke volumes about us as a people.
If my vision is the wrong one, that’s fine. Let’s hear yours. Let’s work together and come up with a consensus and see if there’s a way to save it.
If it can’t be done, let’s be honest about that, too. If Yankee Stadium and Tiger Stadium can go, then the Astrodome can go, too.
Let’s be honest with one another and allow her to die with dignity. It would be painful to see it go, but nothing is worse than watching her fall apart. She deserves better.