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The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

By ANNA-MEGAN RALEY, CBS Houston
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astrodome football The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

File photo of an interior shot of the Astrodome in 1996. (credit: Tony Duffy/ALLSPORT)

HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The once-great Astrodome, known for years as the Eighth Wonder of the World, was home to the Houston Astros and the Oilers, playoff games at all levels, movie scenes, countless concerts and other events. The beloved dome, an iconic landmark to Houstonians, has morphed into an eyesore with an appearance inside that compares to the aftermath of a war zone.

katrina dome The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

Thousands of evacuees fill the Astrodome. (credit: OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

The last time the Astrodome’s doors were opened for the masses – besides the rats, wild cats and possibly snakes, it was hardly for an event. The Dome had been a safe-haven for evacuating residents of Louisiana who needed refuge following the disaster left after Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005. Since then, only Reliant Park employees, other workers and the occasional daredevil had made their way inside the blemish that seems to cower next to the decades-newer, state-of-the-art Reliant Stadium.

elvis The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

Elvis Presley made six appearances over three days at the Houston Rodeo at the Astrodome. (credit: AFP/Getty Images)

After several requests from varying Houston media outlets, representatives from HCSCC and SMG-Reliant Park opened up the dusty doors to the structurally-questionable Astrodome and let photographers and reporters who signed waivers tour the battered building.

The Astrodome is a disaster, but some things still sit where they did when the facility was still open for business.

From end zone to end zone, swirling patterns of mold, mildew, animal feces and whatever else have overtaken the Astroturf that was rolled out as if the old Oilers were going to be playing on it some Sunday this fall.

Debris, chair pieces, boxes, basketball goals and rolled sections of turf decorate the perimeter of the uneven, hazardous former field, and everything was frosted with muck, dust and moisture from years of rainstorms falling onto the Dome’s tattered roof.

The glass-paneled roof is now stripped of most of its paint is now only tinted by varying amounts of mildrew growth and lets in tons of natural light onto the field and seating areas.

dsc 0166 The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

Astrodome rainbow seats. (credit: Anna-Megan Raley/CBS Houston)

The hot sour air plagues the locker rooms, where players like Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and Jimmy Wynn once hung their gear, and the hallways, which were once booming with sounds of big men in cleats stomping down wooden steps to the field for a game.

While being in the place that hosted so many great Houston moments, touring the bowels of the Dome felt like being a naive guest invited into a version of the Blair Witch Project. Some lights were on, some burnt out and some shattered into pieces. At times, reporter cell phones and photo flashes shed the only light as the handful of media members tiptoed down those same wooden steps, now rotting in darkness, and through tight, asbestos-tainted hallways.

dsc 0164 The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

The Astrodome has a severe mold problem. (credit: Anna-Megan Raley/CBS Houston)

The restrooms are covered in unknown filth, and some still have unused toilet paper still in their rolls. The concession stands are empty of food, but the beverage spouts for beer and sodas are still in tact, labeled and covered in spider webs. Trash cans are found at the ends of aisles and near the concessions areas – as if a patron will walk by at any moment to discard a half-eaten hot dog or a cotton candy wrapper. And everything, absolutely everything, is buried under layers of dirt, mildew, mold or something else.

An empty bottle of Gran Marnier lay on the couch in the club level, and leaves a mystery behind about who might have consumed its last alcoholic drops. Concourse TVs are still buckled into place, and old signs and logos decorate all areas formerly occupied by fans. Dugout benches are piled up next to some rusty lockers underneath the bleachers.

Entering the video control room yielded the most mind-boggling and moment-captured-in-time experience during the tour. The computers are still running and powered up, as if the employees, who operated the video boards, thought they’d be able to come right back to the room.

dsc 0153 The Astrodome: From Greatness To Ruin

Astrodome video workroom (credit: Anna-Megan Raley/CBS Houston)

While most of the Dome is a complete disaster, this room is still alive with the sounds of those machines, a stack of personalized floppy disks, Astros- and Oilers-related forms, manuals and other items that create a freeze-frame of the last day the room was occupied. A pencil and notepad lay next to the keyboard, and a cartoon cut-out and somebody’s personal notes remain taped to the door and wall.

If the Dome is a ghost town, is that the room where the ghosts spend most of their time?

Here are some better questions. Why are those computers still running? Why are the lights that still work turned on? Why is the turf and the much-coveted Astrodome seats still in place when they might have been sold to all those Houstonians, who still believe the Dome is too important to be demolished?

So much about the Dome’s appearance makes absolutely no sense. Neglect and mismanagement have led to this place becoming more of an AstroDump than anything else. While the critters are living a life of luxury, Astrodome fans are just left shaking their heads about a world wonder becoming Houston’s big shame and a sad conclusion to one of the city’s favorite memory lanes.

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