Once a technological marvel and the envy of sports teams everywhere, the half-century-old Houston Astrodome appears headed for demolition.
Houston-area voters on Tuesday rejected a plan that would have renovated the now outdated relic, and converted it into a massive convention center. Fifty-three percent of voters nixed the proposal, which would have authorized Harris County, Texas, to sell up to $217 million in bonds to finance the ambitious restoration project.
Preservationists had hoped to rescue the iconic building, which has been bereft of tenants and beset by building code violations, from the scrap heap, though the bond failure was likely their last chance to do so.
"This was the best effort" to save the Astrodome, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett tells the Associated Press, "and voters have turned it down."
The Astrodome was a historic engineering achievement when it first opened in 1965. Often touted as the "Eight Wonder of the World," it was the first multi-purpose, domed, air-conditioned stadium on the planet. (The New York Times dubbed it "the world's largest air-conditioned room.")
Featuring a 200-foot-high roof and a four-story scoreboard, the Astrodome "perfectly embodies postwar U.S. culture," writes the Los Angeles Times' architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, because of its "brash combination of Space Age glamour, broad-shouldered scale, and total climate control."
"There may be no piece of architecture more quintessentially American than the Astrodome," he adds.
Originally, the Astrodome was built to house the eponymous Houston Astros, formerly the Houston Colt .45s — yes, Texas' first pro baseball team had a short-lived gun-themed moniker. And in April 1965, the Houston club faced the New York Yankees in the first indoor baseball game ever. Mickey Mantle led off with a single, and hit the stadium's first homer.
The newly-formed Houston Oilers of the NFL soon moved into the Astrodome as well — the retractable seating made the Astrodome a suitable venue for both baseball and football. And over the next four decades, the stadium would play host to a number of major sporting, political, and cultural events. It was the site of the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, the 1992 Republican National Convention, and the "Game of the Century" between college basketball powerhouses UCLA and Houston, which set a new attendance record for college hoops and helped establish the sport's popularity.
Yet as the new millennium approached, the stadium became increasingly obsolete, an anachronism in an age of beautiful new facilities that vastly improved on the Astrodome's pioneering features. The Oilers left after the 1996 season, and the Astros played their last game there in 1999, leaving the Astrodome with no permanent tenant.
It's only notable use in recent years came after Hurricane Katrina, when it sheltered displaced Louisiana residents. In 2008, it was shuttered for good, deemed unsafe for occupancy.
Though the Astrodome will almost certainly meet the wrecking ball, its influence on other stadiums will remain for years to come. After all, its mammoth Astrolite scoreboard paved the way for the modern JumboTron, and it's artificial field, gave us the the ubiquitous term "AstroTurf."
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