Culture / Sporting Life

Inside the Astrodome for One Last Party — Crazy Sights and All: A Huge Crowd Swarms the 8th Wonder Before Its Remodeled for Good

BY // 04.09.18
photography Annie Gallay

Let’s face it. There’s no place like dome. That was truer than ever at Domecoming,  the so long, farewell party to the iconic Astrodome that brought thousands and thousands of Houstonians out on a dreary Monday night.

Don’t worry. The beloved 8th Wonder of the World is staying around, but this is the last time it will be seen like this. The Astrodome will reemerge by 2020 with a whole new look. And it should, with a projected remodeling price tag of $105 million. The Dome is being turned into an event space with additional parking.

The semi goodbye party was broken into an outdoor fest with food trucks aplenty and a stage with live music from the original Astro Nuts, and the end-all-be-all: a gallery of sports goodies inside the Astrodome itself. The evening paid homage to the Houston Oilers and Astros who made the Bayou City sports scene what it is.

All 25,000 of the free tickets to the event at NRG Park were scooped up hours after they went online last month. Hundreds of folks were lining up well before 4 pm to bid adieu to the good ol’ dome — with the party not opening to the public until 5. By 6, the line still curved halfway around the engineering marvel on its 53rd Anniversary.

“The dome is more than Harris County. It’s more than a building,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told a crowd outside the arena. “Our roots are here. Our history is here.” Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed. While Houston can always build and improve, “you can still hold onto what is old. You can hold onto history,” Turner argued.

Monday was the public’s very last chance to see the Astrodome in all of its glory — its groundbreaking-but-broken-down glory. To their credit, the Astrodome Conservancy didn’t completely gussy up the place. Just because it’s a play on homecoming doesn’t mean the Dome was in need of streamers and disco balls.

The Astrodome was left largely in its state of the past 10 or so years. The decade has shown it some tough love.

Promptly at 5 pm, people were let into the Texas Historic Landmark and State Antiquities Landmark. There was no walking down the vast ramp. The only path was down the narrow set of stairs on the right-hand side of the interior.

The ceiling kept the Astrodome’s wonder a secret, until you stepped down to the final segment of stairs. Then, the space opened up into an endless expanse with a circular ceiling that felt like it was worlds above.

Domecoming ceiling
The domed ceiling never ceases to amaze.

First, your eyes adjusted to that incredible ceiling. It comes off as this light struck medley of mechanical and celestial. Then, you realize you’re were in a structure that could pass for post-apocalyptic. But it’s better the Astrodome’s in sunken disrepair than razed to the ground — which would truly mean the end of days to some Houstonians.

All above, you could see row after row of rusted stadium seats in a palette of dingy grays and browns. Signs of eras past still hung on the walls, like an advertisement for the bygone Continental Airlines. The left side of the stadium’s floor was covered in rolled up carpet and other debris.

But in the heart of all this timeworn chaos was a mini museum. As you entered to the right, you were funneled down a bright green Astroturf red carpet of sorts. The winding path led to six rows of Astrodome artifacts, separated by railings. Fans who’d watched the Oilers in their heyday and even first-timers snapped pic after pic of vintage jerseys, football helmets and dinner plate-sized Astrodome renovation models.

You could see every item on display by following the curving, fenced-in path. Like a scavenger hunt-meets-airport-security-line. At the very end of the first row sat an old TV set, blaring vintage Astros documentaries. You could hear the announcer’s old school voice as you toured around, stopping to take in the Astros’ final home plate or standing in awe at the very end, right in front of the Astros’ current World Series trophy.

Astrodome Seat Fever

A set of original Astrodome seats near the middle was particularly Snapchat-worthy. The event’s organizers had put the utmost faith in the sports fans. There wasn’t a single Look But Don’t Touch Sign in sight.

It was a chilly day, so you saw more Astros jerseys and T-shirts peeking out from under jackets and sweaters that worn out in the open. One brave man was out in short sleeves in a black bedazzled tee that looked suspiciously homemade. An Astrodome outline made entirely of sequins glinted at the crowd from his back.

Almost everyone got the baseball cap memo. An aerial view would have shown a sea of orange and blue heads bobbing around. People came in groups. People came alone. From 5 o’clock on, the line merely stalled, never stopped, as the entrance to the museum got gummed up with selfie-takers.

Who can blame them? The Astrodome’s earned history.

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