While hammering out the details of the Astrodome’s climate control system back before the building existed, members of the design team planned for some pretty bizarre weather not just outside it, but inside its 9.5-acre interior as well. According to I.A. Naman, whose firm designed the stadium’s air conditioning, “An experience had been reported previously regarding large dirigible hangars where unusual weather conditions were reported to have resulted in rainfall inside the hangar, even though it was not raining outside.” He wasn’t joking. “There was speculation that we might have such a situation in the stadium where fog, haze, self-generated turbulence in the nature of a tornado, cloud formations or even rain, might conceivably be experienced,” he wrote in 1966. “Was this something which really could happen or was it only a fear with no real basis?”
That the air inside the stadium would likely be filled with tobacco smoke made things even more complicated. If the smoke were to form a cloud of sufficient density, the engineers worried that it might obscure the audience’s view of what they came to see. “It was impractical to try to eliminate the smoke cloud entirely,” wrote Naman. So the question became: How much smoke could there be before the action on the field became too hard to follow? To find out, “A simple experiment was arranged,” he wrote. A few engineers sat down inside a sealed glass box. Outside the box, an attendant flicked on a color movie of a baseball game. Slowly and carefully, smoke was piped into the box until the engineers could no longer discern the game. A measurement was taken, indicating the maximum amount of haze a spectator could conceivably put up with. It became the target level that the design team strove to meet.
In order to reach it, they concluded:
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A Chance of Indoor Showers
ASTRODOME RENOVATION BUDGET ISN’T ENOUGH FOR AIR CONDITIONING, SAYS COUNTY JUDGE LINA HIDALGO
While looking into those Astrodome renovation plans to raise the floor and slip 2 levels of parking underneath it that the previous commissioners court set aside money for last April, new Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo appears to have had a revelation: “What I’m discovering,” she tells Houston Matters’s Craig Cohen on air yesterday, “is that the 105 [million dollars] that was allocated is not enough to air condition the building.” And so she asks: “Is the current design enough for folks to actually want to rent it out? I don’t want this to be a white elephant,” she says. “So that’s what I’m trying to figure out.” [Houston Public Media] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
Just in time for Christmas, Preservation Houston has begun marketing a new type of Astrodome memorabilia: 4-in. beverage-coaster-sized squares of AstroTurf removed from the stripped-down stadium — along with loads of other major league hardware — in October 2013. Each one bears “a unique serial number and a certificate of authenticity,” according to the seller, and they come in packs of 4 that cost $100, plus tax. (That’s more than a 200-percent price hike since the last big Astrodome yard sale 5 years ago offered up 12-in.-by-12-in. squares for $20 each.)
During the lead-up to the defeated 2013 bond proposal that would have paid for extensive renovations to the Astrodome, these particular patches of turf road along with staffers from the National Trust onboard the “Dome Mobile,” a 26-ft. truck that the preservationist organization commandeered as part of a public campaign to save the building from demolition. It wasn’t until afterward that Preservation Houston got its hands on them en masse. Shipments of the items, it now says, should be delivered to buyers no later than December 17.
Photos: Preservation Houston
Holiday Yard Sale
What’s going on with the Astrodome, after state senator John Whitmire’s plan to require a vote on a planned reconfiguration of the long-vacant former stadium was blocked last month? The project is still in a “design phase” that continued through the legislative session and is expected to last through the end of this year, and which includes some rather unglamorous tasks — such as verifying existing drawings and digging up the facility’s drainage pipe to see what condition it’s in. But officials won’t wait until the design phase is complete before getting estimates from construction managers. “After we get all the estimates, we’ll go back to commissioners court for approval to proceed,” county engineer John Blount tells Community Impact reporter Shawn Arrajj.
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Offices and Restaurants and Retail Too
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NEXT ASTRODOME ELECTION IS ALREADY SCHEDULED, ANYWAY “Great to see that a bill specifically tailored to torpedo the Astrodome has been shot down. The state politicians should not meddle in local county affairs. Did anyone ever ask Houston and Harris County voters to spend millions upon millions to host another Super Bowl? Or to upgrade Reliant Stadium to please McNair? If the county’s financing plan is legitimate (no bonds issued, and a referendum not required), let them continue. Harris county voters have already spoken by voting Emmett and others in. They’ll have their chance to vote them out if needed. The revitalized Dome could be something special — why waste a unique structure and a Houston landmark?” [Blake, commenting on The Bill To Force an Astrodome Garage-ification Election Is Dead, Again, For Now] Illustration: Lulu
The state bill proposed by Houston-area senator John Whitmire (to require a vote on major county-funded upgrades to certain Texas stadiums that happen to be the Astrodome) was killed in the Texas House by a different Houston-area legislator, Robert Arnold reports this week for KHOU. (That likely means the work on Harris County’s plan to fill in the bottom of the Dome with an underground parking garage can go ahead without a special election on the spending.) The bill actually passed the Senate at the end of March, but died in the House’s County Affairs committee chaired by representative Garnet Coleman (whose own legislative district ever-so-slightly overlaps Whitmire’s around Fourth Ward: From there, Coleman’s District 147 stretches down through Third Ward toward the Beltway along the Gulf Freeway, while Whitmire’s Senate District 15 horseshoes up 290 to FM 1960 and Humble before looping back down to the Ship Channel). Arnold says the bill made an unsuccessful comeback attempt as an amendment to another measure, and looks to be dead for now as of yesterday’s end of the normal legislative calendar. (Then again — who knows what might pop up during a special session?)
Schematic of county Astrodome parking garage plan: Harris County Engineering Dept.
Parking Plan Stop-and-Go
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is now promoting a crowdfunding campaign to host some kind of multi-day art-slash-music-slash-sports festival inside the Astrodome, perhaps as depicted in the trippy rendering above shown on the campaign’s online fundraising page. (The campaign is one of the so-called Cities Project projects being coordinated by the National Trust and beer multinational Heineken; other projects around the country getting similar treatment include fundraising for a documentary about the war memorial-slash-swimming-pool in Waikiki, and fundraising for the restoration of some glass sidewalks in Seattle.)
Materials for the campaign (which also has the backing of the Astrodome Conservancy) say the event would “preview the Astrodome’s future use” (assuming no laws that happen to prevent a certain aging Dome from getting remodeled pass in Austin this summer). Details on what such a festival would actually look like are scarce, though some good examples of what not to aim for have been floated recently.
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Prepping for DomeFest
STATE COMMITTEE OKAYS BILL TO REQUIRE ‘CERTAIN COUNTIES’ TO VOTE ON ASTRODOME PARKING GARAGE-IFICATION The Texas senate’s committee on intergovernmental relations gave an early stamp of approval to that bill that would require Harris County to hold a vote on the plan recently set in motion to turn the Astrodome’s sunken field into an underground parking garage, Mihir Zaveri notes in the Chronicle this morning. The bill’s language doesn’t explicitly single out the Dome and the county commissioners; it would just mandate that “certain counties” — those with a population of 3.3 million or more — would need to call a vote on work related to “certain sports facilities” if the price tag of a given project reaches $10 million — namely, those sports facilities already more than 50 years old when the bill passes. (Harris County, with a population estimated around 4.5 million, is the only Texas county that comes remotely close to passing the bill’s size threshold.) [Houston Chronicle; Texas Legislature; previously on Swamplot] Schematic of Astrodome parking plan: Harris County Engineering Dept.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO BUILD ON THE EIGHTH WONDER’S EMERGENCY HOUSING LEGACY “We’ve already got a built structure that has housed people in distress before. We are already paying millions of dollars a year in upkeep for a useless building. Showers, bathrooms, food prep, these services all already exist in this space. We’ve got a round peg, let’s just fit it into the round hole: The Astrodome is the perfect building to house our homeless!” [toasty, commenting on Mansion Flats Reincarnated; What a Homeless Campground Might Cost; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
After a few years of mulling it over, the Texas Historical Commission voted this morning to give State Antiquities Landmark status to the Astrodome (formally known, the agency notes, as the Harris County Domed Stadium). About a dozen Houston buildings have the designation (which can also go to shipwrecks and archaeological sites); the status means that any attempts to “remove, alter, damage, salvage, or excavate” the Dome — a spread of activity which probably includes installing that parking garage in the bottom — will now also need a permit from the state.
THC’s Executive Director Mark Wolfe says in this morning’s statement that the Dome is “one of the most significant sports and entertainment venues in history, setting the standard for modern facilities around the world.” The structure will continue adding to its sports resume during the impending Super Bowl week by storing Super Bowl-related things and being lit up nearby (as rendered above).
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Under State Protection
Judge Emmett’s office passes along the rendering above today, showing plans for the Astrodome’s Super Bowl vestment — namely, a new swath of blue-green lighting around the stadium’s exterior wall. That proposed projected light show on the roof got shot down in the fall, along with the possibility of holding any events in the building; Brent Schrotenboer of USAtoday notes the Dome currently holds the distinction of “biggest and most famous storage facility in Texas,” however, and as such will be carrying out its related stuff-holding duties for a variety of Super Bowl lead-up events.
Rendering of Astrodome Super Bowl lighting: Super Bowl Host Committee
TALK ASTRODOME TOMORROW WITH THE GUYS THAT WROTE THE BOOK ON IT There’s a new tell-all biography of the Astrodome out this fall, now that year 50 since the stadium’s mid-1965 opening has wrapped up. Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack’s The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome covers Dome history from its development days, and gets into how the building shaped Houston and Houston’s reputation. The authors, one of whom has also written another book about stadium construction politics, will be in town tomorrow night for a free talk and book signing — you can check out the when-and-where and RSVP here. The book includes what University of Nebraska Press refers to as some of the structure’s more “memorable problems, such as outfielders’ inability to see fly balls and failed attempts to grow natural grass — which ultimately led to the development of Astroturf.” The text also touches on some of the most recent will-they-won’t-they preservation scuffles— though its publication date precedes this year’s approval by Harris County of initial funding for that plan to turn the bottom levels of the stadium into a parking garage. [University of Nebraska Press] Image of book cover: University of Nebraska Press
NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATIONISTS TO GATHER IN HOUSTON, GAWK AT ASTRODOME The National Trust for Historic Preservation — that’d be the folks that coined the ‘orgy of irrational destruction’ line picked up by Save the Bungalows a few years back — is holding its annual conference in Houston for the first time, starting next Tuesday. Current president Stephanie Meeks cites the city’s “compelling preservation story,” amid a regional lack of preservation-minded rules and regulations, as a reason for picking the city. Planned field trip locales include the Astrodome (currently getting ready for that basement parking garage remodel), as well as Mission Control, the artsifying warehouses and industrial facilities around Washington Ave., and a handful of Galveston historic districts. Also on the docket: the debut of the organization’s Atlas of ReUrbanism (a digital collection of built environment data aimed public officials, reporters, and other city data scavengers), for which Houston is one of 5 starter cities. Would-be attendees can catch some conference sessions next Tuesday through Friday in the neighborhood of the newly-game-faced George R. Brown Convention Center; those who don’t want to make the trip downtown can watch some sessions at home. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: SAVE-THE-DOME SAGA’S PARKING GARAGE ENDING LEAVES ROOM FOR A SEQUEL “I think people are missing the larger view here. Of course there is plenty of current surface parking — but putting parking beneath the Dome begins to open up the possibility of densification on this site and on the old Astroworld site. This is the first, and necessary, step in transforming this entire area. I am betting that in 20 years or so this site will barely resemble the vast wasteland of parking lots and open space that it is today.” [SH, commenting on County Approves First $10.5 Million for Astrodome Basement Parking Garage Plan] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool