In case you missed the news, the Houston Astrodome was listed recently in the National Register of Historic Places. What’s that, you ask? The NRHP (for short) is a list of historically significant sites, structures, or districts deemed significant by the federal government. These are not just “old buildings,” either. The St. Louis Arch and Martin Luther King Jr.’s gravesite are both NRHP listed properties. These sites can qualify for inclusion based on multiple factors, including architectural design or an association with a famous person or event.
So, why the Astrodome? From a cultural standpoint, the Astrodome was a very important structure in the latter half of the 20th century. It’s easy to write it off as just a sports stadium where the Astros and Oilers played games, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll see it hosted many important cultural events (including boxing matches, Evil Knievel, the Republican National Convention in 1992, Elvis Presley, “The Battle of the Sexes,” etc.). Aesthetics also likely played a part in why the structure was nominated. It was built in 1965, which was the height of Modernist design, and it was a very unique looking design. It’s sometimes hard to grasp now, but the Astrodome was important enough to be dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Now, what does NRHP nomination mean for the Astrodome? The short answer is we don’t really know yet. Properties listed in the NRHP are eligible for tax breaks if the owner(s) tries to rehabilitate the structure and that’s a big incentive. If Harris County, for example, were to sell the site to a developer or group, that might help convince them to try and repurpose the Astrodome in some way. Of course, I write “might” here because it’s a popular misconception that being listed in the NRHP prevents a structure from being torn down. Demolition is still a very real outcome here.
Still, if you’re a fan of the Astrodome, this announcement is a good thing. The recognition, and PR generated, helps gives the structure another lifeline. If you’re not a fan of the Astrodome, this probably isn’t the news you were looking for since it buys a little more time. Summed up: There’s still is no resolution and all options are on the table. Stay tuned.