Making history

Departments - Editor's Focus

January 14, 2014
Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith


Demolishing a shopping plaza or an office building is a pretty common job for a demolition contractor. Taking down a structure of that sort doesn’t usually cause too much controversy. But it’s when the demolition involves a structure that holds countless memories and moments in history, that preservationists, history buffs or sports fans sometimes voice their opposition.

On Dec. 8, 2013, the Houston-based demolition and recycling firm Cherry brought down three exterior ramp towers outside the Houston Astrodome using explosives, and it is uncertain when or even if the rest of the Astrodome will come down.

Many attempts have been made at saving the 50-year-old sports arena from demolition, but so far all of those attempts have failed. Most recently, Harris County voters rejected a $200 million renovation plan that was to come from public funds. Now Houston’s Archaeological and Historical Commission are pushing for the stadium to be designated a historic landmark.

The famous arena, which gained the nickname the “Eighth Wonder of the World” during its five decades of use, certainly made a lot of history. From the first homerun hit there by New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle in 1965, to the 1986 National League Championship game between the Houston Astros and the New York Mets that lasted for a nail-biting 16-innings. Elvis, Pink Floyd, Mohammed Ali and Evel Knievel all entertained thousands inside the dome. It was the place where Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in three straight sets in the unforgettable “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. And who could forget the thousands of displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina who sought shelter there in 2004.

Sports arenas are not immune to aging. It can be sad to say goodbye to a place that served up so many memories both inside the arena and on millions of televisions throughout the years. But fast-forward to 2014 and numerous code violations have left the Astrodome vacant since 2008. The newer Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium have been the major sports venues in the Houston area since the early 2000s.

ESPN’s Chris Jones described the Astrodome in a recent column as being “caught in a potentially fatal in-between: It seems hopelessly ancient, curled up in the shadow of its massive, tricked-out neighbor, and yet not ancient (or pretty) enough to be seen as truly historic.”

Soon the Astrodome may be just a memory as demolition will likely proceed in 2014. It is not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last time a large sports and entertainment complex is demolished. Just a few weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings played its last game in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which is slated to be demolished early this year.

Professional sports franchises would rather build bigger, better and newer venues than stay in aging stadiums. More and more these old arenas are left in the shadows of their modern replacements. While franchise owners seem quick to want to build new, I venture to say many sports fans like to cling on to the history made in old stadiums if sold-out sales of Astrodome and Metrodome stadium seats are any indication.