The Astrodome has been empty for several years now, but last night—fifty years to the day since the 8th Wonder of the World first opened—visitors were invited to once more enter a space that has proven both landmark and burden in Houston. 

And enter they did. Officials estimate 25,000 attended the event, and the line to get in became a monument to human engineering all its own. 

The wait to get in took up to three hours, according to visitors, drawn by either novelty or nostalgia. The event was attended by former Oilers and Astros stars, and they seemed to bring an unexpected air of poignancy to it, if this recap from the Houston Chronicle is any indication:

“That was my ballpark,” said former Astros outfielder Jose Cruz, admitting that nostalgia sweeps over him whenever he drives by it.

Like any senior citizen recalling his lost youth, Cruz prefers talking more about the good times than the bad. And for a two-time All Star who played more games in the Astrodome than anyone else, there was no shortage of them. […]

Local sports fans recalled more personal moments: ball games with dad, concerts with their buddies, a childhood giving way to adulthood as they roamed the concourses of a stadium that gradually attracted more criticism than praise.

Not lost among the reverie was the sadness that comes with age. In a city that struggles with the notion of preservation, the Astrodome got the cold shoulder as soon as Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium made it superfluous.

Of course, determining what to do with the Astrodome now has long been a hot topic in Houston, and while it may seem unlikely that the chance to revisit the building would have much impact there, at least one Reddit user noted that the tour changed his mind about preservation


3 hours later… #DomePartyAhead #HTX #AstroDome #GoPro #50thBirthday #Dome #latergram #UnderTheDome

A photo posted by @thatfacecarlos on

There’s something remarkable about seeing the Astrodome packed full of excited visitors, decked in Astros, Oilers, and Texans gear, in the year 2015, and it speaks a bit to why the Dome is still there even as the city has been unable to decide what to do with it. People may not be convinced that paying to preserve it is a great use of tax dollars, but there’s clearly a sharp nostalgic streak when it comes to the Astrodome. The fact that 25,000 people stood in an hours-long line just for the chance to set foot inside the building one more time gives an indication of what role the building plays in the Houston imagination. 


Last night inside the astrodome. #astrodome #dome50

A photo posted by YO~~ (@beanpolice) on


Selfie with #Orbit on the floor of the #Astrodome #Dome50

A photo posted by Christopher Quisquinay (@chris_chickeneye) on


All of my pictures, quotes, and videos on my IG are always portraying me in a good light, a decent shot, but most importantly a great smile. I think tonight, 4/09/15 was one of my most sincere smiles I’ve ever shared with y’all. Houston isn’t just my home, it’s a way of life. I brag a lot about my home and how proud I am to be a Houston girl, but it’s nights like these I truly feel blessed to call myself a NATIVE Houstonian. I was BORN in Houston. I was RAISED in Houston. I have Houston MORALS, MANNERS, DECENCY, COMMON COURTESY, and RESPECT. I share these substantial characteristics with all my other NATIVE BORN AND RAISED HOUSTONIANS. The Astrodome is a part of me; It’s a part of all us. It’s where the Oilers first played football, it’s where the Astros took the first swing against the Yankees, it’s where people came together and pulled for their city as one. The Astrodome unified us all once upon a time and tonight was the Astrodome’s 50th Birthday bringing together over 5000 Houstonians to unify us once more. This picture isn’t supposed to be new, improved, or me as the focal point. The true focal point are the seats behind me. I only wish I could remember sitting in them and cheering on my Blue. I think I can speak for all of us natives when I say, “LUV YA’ BLUE!” #Houston #HoustonGirl #HoustonOilers #TheDome #Astrodome #50thBirthday #Astros #TheHoustonAstros #LuvYaBlue #Home #Passionate #BornandRaisedInHouston #Blessed #Memory #History #Happiness #Runner #RunHouston #Aggie #FightinTexasAggie #Texas #Southern #Yall #HoustonRodeo #8thWonderoftheWorld

A photo posted by @che_pronouncedshay on

That nostalgia may not mean much, ultimately, of course. The most popular proposal at the moment for the Astrodome space is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s plan to turn the building into the world’s largest indoor park. It seems like a great idea—and it comes with a $242 million price tag, which voters would have to approve. Maybe if the vote were held today, with Astrodome enthusiasm at a high point. 

But whatever the future holds for the Astrodome, it’s clear that more people care about the building than anyone would have guessed. (A photo on Imgur showed only a few dozen seats initially set up near the stage, though its unlikely that means much of anything.) When deciding what to do with the Dome, it’s worth considering that the people who love that building really love it, and there appear to be more of them than we thought.

(top image via flickr)