Houston Astrodome at 50: the global 'wonder' now a decaying shell

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Texans on Thursday marked the 50th birthday of the Houston Astrodome, the world’s first fully air-conditioned multipurpose domed stadium, once dubbed a global wonder and now a decaying structure with an uncertain future.

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The Astrodome, which has been gutted and vacant for years, was open to the public for a two-hour ceremony attended by thousands to celebrate the edifice christened on April 9, 1965, when New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle hit in a home run at an exhibition game.

When it opened in 1965 at a cost of $35 million to build, it was dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and hosted events including a Judy Garland concert and Billy Graham Christian Crusade.

The Houston Astros baseball team, who called it home, finished one spot out of last place in the National League that year with outfielders of all stripes ducking for cover from fly balls that got lost in the glare of the ceiling panels.

A year later, the ceiling problem was fixed but it caused the grass to die. Along came a synthetic material dubbed AstroTurf that played havoc on athletes’ knees and caused carpet burns for anyone sliding across the surface.

Later, the Houston Oilers would play football in the dome that was home to the 1992 Republican National Convention, six Elvis Presley concerts and Tejano singer Selena’s last televised concert.

In 1999, the Astros played their last game at the Astrodome. It officially closed in 2006, three years after the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo moved to a new venue.

“It is history in the making here. I came to a lot of Astros games in the Astrodome. It is kind of like going down memory lane,” James Worrell told local broadcaster KPRC from the celebrations inside the dome.

The latest plans for the structure include turning it into an indoor park.

In 2013, Houstonians voted against a $213 million proposal for the “New Dome Experience,” which would have converted the building into a convention center.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Eric Walsh