The fate of Houston’s ruefully neglected Astrodome could take a turn for the better if the state Antiquities Advisory Board, meeting Tuesday in Fort Worth, approves the famous building’s nomination as a State Antiquities Landmark.
The SAL nomination comes after the Dome became listed on the National Historic Register, a prerequisite, earlier this year.
Consideration for this prestigious and protective ranking came to be not through the wisdom of the Astrodome’s caretakers, the Harris County Commission. It is because two “regular people” were alarmed that the wondrous building was headed toward demolition.
Public buildings can be nominated by the public for historic status, so we took on the task.
Designation as a State Antiquities Landmark is the ultimate recognition of a Texas building, and it will protect the Astrodome from further desecration by the Harris County Commissioners Court.
The commission, four elected commissioners and the county judge, is responsible for the Astrodome and its current condition.
Built in 1965, the Astrodome was dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was the first-ever enclosed stadium, allowing indoor play for professional teams and live entertainment.
The heated and air-conditioned venue drew big-name performers from Elvis to Selena and was home to the Houston Oilers and the Houston Astros. It was admired and respected as an architectural and engineering marvel all over the world.
When the Astros moved from the Dome to Minute Maid Park stadium in 1999 (the Oilers had already left to become the Tennessee Titans), commissioners created the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation to oversee the care and nurturing of the fully operational stadium.
In 2009, the Astrodome was closed for failing to meet safety codes. In the span of 10 years the icon’s “caretakers” had taken it from a functional, revenue-producing stadium accommodating 65,000 boisterous baseball fans to a dusty rat trap.
Now the very group that was formed to maintain and oversee the Astrodome, the Sports & Convention Corporation, has recommended it be demolished.
The overseers need serious oversight. With designation as a State Antiquities Landmark, genuine oversight can finally be accomplished.
Nothing can then be done to the Dome without an approved permit from the Texas Historical Commission, which will ensure its historical integrity is preserved. The demolition that has started will be stopped.
Although there have been many suggestions for adaptive re-use, commissioners have found it more palatable to do nothing rather than to take a brave step and do something.
Commissioners could have sought historic status for the Astrodome years ago. That would have opened the door for federal and state funding for repairs as well as tax incentives for potential developers.
It is past time that someone, in this instance the Texas Historical Commission and the Antiquities Advisory Board, step in and remind the Harris County commissioners that the Astrodome does not belong to them.
It belongs to Houston and Texas.
After it is declared a State Antiquities Landmark, the Astrodome will at long last have a positive future.
Cynthia Neely, formerly a partner in a company seeking to use the Dome for film production, now runs Black Gold Productions with partners in Los Angeles and New York. Ted Powell is a recently retired chemical engineer and an avid preservationist.