From home to the dome

By CECILY BATEMAN,

Naturally, places mean different things to different people - a matter of perspective. But likely what most of us associate with the Superdome (the "Dome"), renamed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2011, is football.
The gridiron segues me back to December 11, 2010, when we were on the edge of our seats in the Dome. By game's end, we were on our feet - for the Class 4A state championship of the LHSAA State Farm Prep Classic. Expertly coached by Shane Smith, the Franklinton Demons defeated the Karr Cougars in fabulous fashion - in overtime 34-28. FHS was victorious in the Dome.
I had been there nearly two decades prior, on December 12, 1981, when St. Martinville defeated Franklinton 14-7 in the Class 3A LHSAA-Lions State Football championship classic - a heartbreaking loss. FHS was due victory nearly twenty years later, and a legion of Franklinton fans converged in the Dome to witness it.

The crux of this column is the venue. Certainly, football has been a large part of it. We have cheered for the Saints in the Dome. We have been to the Sugar Bowl there. And we have enjoyed LSU football in the Dome with our son-in-law Erik.
But the Dome has lured our family to other events. As a tot, our daughter Betsy accompanied my father to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a spectacular show held in the Dome. Then, years later, she graduated from Tulane University - a huge celebration - there. And in the interlude, Rodney rode into the Dome, dressed in purple, green, and gold, on his float in the Krewe of Endymion always on the Saturday night before Mardi Gras.

It was Charles Dickens who said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" which brings to mind the Louisiana State Bar exam which brought me to the Dome. Back in the summer of 1989, following Tulane Law School graduation and an intense bar review course, I faced a grueling week's worth of Bar examination, in order to become licensed to practice law in Louisiana. The Louisiana State Bar examination was administered, back in that day, in the Dome - on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For three excruciating days, my cohorts and I toiled from daylight to dark with pen and paper, in the form of blue books. I remember Daddy picking me up in the evenings in his tan Dodge Caravan, the first model minivan made. He didn't want me to walk to my car.

With the Dome turning 45 years old next month and undergoing extensive renovations, estimated to cost in excess of $400 million, it's an opportune time to reflect on its history. My resources are an article my dad sagely saved - "Dome Watching" by Terence P. Smith in a special section of "Dixie" to The Times-Picayune entitled "All Roads Lead to Dome," published on August 3, 1975, and my signed copy of The Saints The Superdome and the Scandal An Insider's Perspective by Dave Dixon. Dixon has been called "the father of the Louisiana Superdome" though he credited Governor John McKeithen with convincing Louisiana voters (who passed Constitutional Amendment #10 in November 1966) of the need for a domed stadium. He also acknowledged Hale Boggs for his support.
But New Orleans civic leader and antiques dealer - the late Dave Dixon (Dixon & Dixon in the Quarter) - will long be remembered for both the Superdome and the Saints. The Tulane graduate and civic leader was the force behind both. With the backing of Governor McKeithen and others, Dixon brought the Dome into being in the Central Business District. The first pilings were driven in the ground on August 11, 1971. And some of them came from Washington Parish.

As explained to me by Clifton native Sara Nelson, her father Winfred Bateman, who was in the sawmill business, went into partnership with my great-uncle Curtis Crain and, after that, with his son Michael, my mother's first cousin. Starting out in the sawmill business, they expanded into logging - poles and piling. It was their piling that was used to build the Dome. According to Ms. Sara, her father's trucks delivered the piling, inside the area that became the Dome, to Boh Brothers - from home to the Dome.
The building of the Dome, designed by brilliant architect Nathaniel C. "Buster" Curtis, Jr., lent itself to spectators who enjoyed watching construction unfold. First, there was clearing, demolition, and pile driving. Then came the concrete pouring and raising of steel, followed by the placement of parts of the roof by helicopter. The outside walls were covered with anodized aluminum and the roof with polyurethane. The Dome's floor space covers 269,000 square feet, and the structure is situated on a site of over fifty acres on Poydras Street in downtown New Orleans.

By the time of the Dome's dedication on August 3, 1975, the price tag had grown to $163 million. This cost was covered by bond issues, interest on bond monies, and a hotel/motel tax. Dave Dixon called it a bargain. And it was. As we celebrate the Dome's 45th year next month, let's remember the good times had there, since there aren't many on the horizon. And I'll try to muffle my memory of the Bar.

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