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When the Astrodome lost an election

In some quarters, Tuesday was Election Day. Including Texas, where the fate of a great bit of baseball lore might have been decided by the voters:

HOUSTON (AP) — Memories will likely soon be all that's left of the Houston Astrodome — the world's first multipurpose domed stadium.

Voters on Tuesday did not approve a referendum that would have authorized up to $217 million in bonds to turn the stadium that once hosted both professional baseball and football games into a giant convention and event center and exhibition space.

Houston-area leaders have said the so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World" would likely have to be torn down if the ballot measure failed to pass.

I recently finished Rachel Kushner's brilliant novel, The Flamethrows, and Tuesday night I was reminded of this passage ...

My one trip to Rome, when I was a student in Florence, was only for two days and it had been a lonely tour of sights: the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, where pickup artists worked on young girls, the Colosseum, a great decaying skull whose grassed-over arena was all but lost in a strange haze of thereness, unreal because it existed, now, without its former use. Tourists watched each other and roamed the crumbling edges, unable to feel the scale as a populated place, a mesh of attentions and shoutings, a looking of thousands upon a ring of human violence.

... as I read about the proposed plans for the Astrodome and its surrounding acres of parking:

The referendum had called for creating 350,000 square feet of exhibition space by removing the interior seats and raising the floor to street level. Other changes included creating 400,000 square feet of plaza and green space on the outside of the structure as part of the project, dubbed "The New Dome Experience."

It all sounds quite wonderful, especially the part about the green space ... but wouldn't it be easier to just knock down the old building and have room for even more green space? One thing that's not mentioned there: parking. If you're going to have 350,000 square feet of exhibition space, you'll need enough space for ... how many cars? I don't know. Some thousands. And there goes some of your green space.

Of course we don't live in an either/or world. Texans aren't real big on publicly owned land, and just a hint of the word green might have helped torpedo the referendum. Maybe once the Astrodome's knocked down, that parcel will be turned into strip malls and parking lots, or widget factories. Or maybe the whole thing will be turned into a lovely park, where kids can imagine themselves as Jose Cruz or Craig Biggio, and lovers might stroll down oak-shaded paths.

A giant exhibition center doesn't seem so brilliant to me. What I'll miss is the Tinker Toy-style dome, and I'll be forever grateful for the chance to visit the Astrodome for a pair of games in the Astros' last season there. It's the only indoor baseball that I've actually enjoyed because of the ballpark, rather than despite it. But an exhibition hall isn't a ballpark any more than a tree farm is a forest. Preservation's a wonderful thing, and I would like to have seen that roof from the inside again. But I think maybe it's time to let this one go. Without baseball, the Astrodome's thereness would always have been hazy anyway, unreal.