Should the Houston Astrodome be saved?

Should the Houston Astrodome be saved?
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POSTED: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 2:05pm

UPDATED: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 4:42pm

Muhammad Ali fought here. Neil Armstrong celebrated his moonwalk here. Elvis Presley sang here. And Billie Jean King faced off against Bobby Riggs here.

In its heyday, the world's first indoor stadium knew how to throw a party. And it paved the way for multi-use, publicly subsidized sports facilities getting built across the United States.

Now the Houston Astrodome has hit the big time, as far as historic buildings go. The dome has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation announced by the National Park Service last week. The listing makes it eligible for tax breaks should the building be rehabilitated but is otherwise mostly honorary.

Can a 20th-century sports stadium be a "historic place?"

The Astrodome "was bold and modern, and it marked the enormous ambition Houston had in the 1960's and 70's, when, thanks to air conditioning becoming cheap and plentiful, [Houston] believed there were no obstacles to its becoming one of the major cities of the world," wrote architecture critic Paul Goldberger, contributor to Vanity Fair, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his architecture criticism at The New York Times and author of "Why Architecture Matters," via email.

"I'm all for saving sports facilities that have genuine historic and architectural value, which the Astrodome does," wrote Goldberger. "Things this big aren't easy to re-use, of course, and there is no doubt that figuring out a viable future for the Astrodome is a huge challenge. But it definitely meets the standard of being a landmark."

That's why the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the stadium on its 2013 list of "most endangered" places, along with a military club for African-American officers, America's first permanent English settlement and an unused airline terminal.

"Many people perceive places built during living memory, or just before, differently than they do older places, and too often value them less," said Stephanie K. Meeks, the National Trust's president, via e-mail.

"We see more and more midcentury icons slowly fading away until demolition seems inevitable," said Meeks. "We must preserve these Modernist buildings not only because they represent America's ingenuity and space-age determination, but because they challenge -- and expand -- our sense of what is worth saving in this country."

Opened in 1965 as home to the Houston Astros and the then-Houston Oilers, the Astrodome hasn't had a sports team to call its own since 1999. Used as a refuge for people fleeing Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the stadium had a sale in November to sell off Astroturf (first installed at the Astrodome and named in its honor), stadium seating and other parts.

The storied stadium was the site of tennis great Billie Jean King's 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" with Bobby Riggs, a historic and much-hyped victory of woman over man in sports. Elvis Presley played the Astrodome in 1970, Neil Armstrong celebrated his moon mission there in 1969 and Muhammad Ali successfully defended his world heavyweight champion title against Cleveland Williams at the stadium in 1966.

Preservationists are scrambling to save the stadium, which is structurally sound and significant in the world of sports -- but also a bit of a local eyesore. Local voters rejected a $217 million November bond initiative to save the county-owned stadium and turn it into a convention center.

What do you think of efforts to preserve and reuse the Houston Astrodome? Should it be saved or torn down? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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