Monday, August 03, 2015

Where the Saints of football play

Great glass Hyatt Elevator

I don't know if this story is apocryphal or not but Dave Dixon made sure to tell it enough times that it gets included in anything anyone ever writes about the Dome. It's a great story either way.
As the story goes, then-Gov. John McKeithen was uncharacteristically silent while he was considering businessman and sports visionary Dave Dixon’s proposal for a domed stadium in New Orleans.

Then suddenly, McKeithen brought his fist down on his desk and thundered, “My God. That would be the greatest building in the history of mankind!

“We’ll build that sucker!”
And, by God, McKeithen was right, as this Advocate retrospective well demonstrates. 
Maybe it was for a Saints game. There have been 370 of them — and, remarkably, the locals are dead even in the building at 185-185.

Or maybe it was for Endymion. Or a Sugar Bowl. Or the papal visit. Or the “No mas” Leonard-Duran fight. Or the Essence Festival. Or a high school game. Or maybe even a high school prom.

They still have those in the ballroom-sized quadrants that have been converted into club lounges.

Or maybe one of the hundreds of other events over the past four decades, some successful, some not.

The Rolling Stones drew more than 80,000 fans to a 1981 concert. But a closed-circuit fight that also was being broadcast on HBO attracted just 83 paying customers. That’s believed to be the all-time low turnout for a Dome event.

While the flexibility of the Dome is what has made all of those concerts, boat shows, flower shows, trade shows and conventions possible, major sports events are what it does better than just about anyplace else.
McKeithen built our city a 70,000 seat "living room." (Doug Thornton calls it that in that article.) We all hang out there from time to time. It's our favorite place to host visitors. Before Tom Benson was allowed to sell the "name" of our building to a sponsor, the state legislature had moved to name it for Governor McKeithen. That would have been appropriate, although most of us prefer the original Louisiana Superdome. It was built by the people of the state. It should carry their name.

When you think of New Orleans and its famous architecture, you're likely to picture wrought iron balconies or Greek revival mansions.  But the Superdome is our greatest building. Sure, it is first and foremost a sports arena, but over 40 years it has functioned as a civic space, a landmark, a shelter (for better and for worse) and a piece of genuine local identity and even pride.

And unlike the glass and steel imitators billionaire sports owners extort from taxpayers around the country,  this is actually a beautiful building. Despite its enormity, the Superdome manages to convey a kind of understated elegance. Whereas Dallas has built a "Death Star" of surreal post-modern excess, and Atlanta is currently constructing, "Megatron's Butthole" the Superdome looks and feels like a real place.  It's no easy trick to design a welcoming, human sort of monolith but that is what our Dome is.  It's almost gotten to a point where people take this transformative and, yes, iconic structure for granted.

Sure, we've stupidly allowed Tom Benson to suck a bunch of money out of it he doesn't deserve. And, yes, the naming sponsorship is egregious. But that doesn't change the fact that this very well may be the "greatest building in the history of mankind" or, at least, in a very localized conceptualization of that.

Superdome and Arena

Dome from Champions Square

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