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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Columns

Astrodome’s condition sparks conversation about preservation


Houston has an unfortunate history of tearing down relics from the past, which concerns advocates for preservation of the Astrodome.

The Texas Senate approved a bill that will require a public vote in order to use taxpayer funds to repurpose the Astrodome. The project has already been approved, but it is now up to the voters.

I witnessed the final rodeo and the final Astros game in the Astrodome when I was a kid. Ironically, it wasn’t until Enron Field was built across the street from the Ben Milam hotel that I noticed the scarcity of historic buildings in the downtown area. The newer ballpark was constructed on the site of Houston’s Union Station, and the Ben Milam hotel across the street was demolished almost a decade later.

The Astrodome has faced a number of proposals for nearly two decades, none of which have been successful. Earlier this year, the stadium was designated a State Antiquities Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission.

Former Houston mayor Bob Lanier played a role in the 1990s by adopting city ordinances to protect civic monuments. More recently, former mayor Annise Parker expanded provisions to protect the process of designating landmarks and historic districts. This allowed progress toward getting the Astrodome preserved.

Houston does not feel like an old city, and I attribute much of that sentiment to influx of younger people living in Houston

The lack of a large population until the latter half of the 20th century fostered an absence of widely felt nostalgia in the city’s population. For example, there is a void of sentimental value in buildings similar to the Astrodome for someone who moved to Houston to capitalize on the oil and gas boom of the 1980s.

The recent trend in the last two decades of delegating more intermediary control to preservation organizations and the public at large is what Houston needs. Concern over indiscriminate demolition of the city’s older buildings has grown out of a collective consciousness being shaped by the successive generations of Newstonians.

Whether the public should fund the restructuring of the Astrodome lot for parking spots is up for debate. While I don’t believe that is the best use of the space, the general apprehension toward misaligned repurposing projects represents a shifting zeitgeist when it comes to Houston’s historic landmarks. 

I was a fan of the romanticized visions to revamp the Astrodome as a multiuse facility, but at least parking allows the building to maintain its relevance for a little longer.

The Astrodome exists as a powerful conversation piece for the city’s citizens as well as preservationists, and it’s considered a relic for many native Houstonians, especially the ones who attended events during its heyday.

The more we debate the Astrodome, the more that preservationists will be able to shape the discussion about the history — and future — of Houston’s buildings. 

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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