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They called King
Ludwig mad, you know, for building all those elaborate castles. And maybe he
was, because he killed himself. But now thousands of tourists come to see the
castles. So Bavaria's rich, and old Ludwig's a hero again.
New Orleans boosters claim that the Superdome has revitalized the city, bringing tourist-oriented businesses, new offices and even industry. The city, they say, is finally catching up with such Southern boomtowns as Atlanta, Houston and Nashville. Indeed, 16,000 new motel rooms have been added since the Dome was announced. "Today the pile driver is the heartbeat of New Orleans," says Dome Secretary Bill Connick. "It is a sound you rarely heard before the Dome." The resurgence has come so quickly that the demolition of any building in the city has been forbidden until 1975 unless the new use of the land is specified and approved.
In his high-ceilinged office at City Hall, Mayor Moon Landrieu smokes a cigar that looks richly Cuban and considers the Superdome. He is not as traditional as his office suggests, nor will he remain here forever. Landrieu was considered as a running mate for George McGovern in 1972. He is a political comer, and is not likely to be kept from the Senate or the governorship much longer. In one capacity or another the mayor has sat on the Superdome Commission from the beginning. "The stadium has been a pump-primer for the city," he says. "It is a focal point of our new prosperity."
New Orleans is the first city in history to be revitalized—and irrevocably changed—by professional sport. The Superdome has community implications as complex as a nerve cell. It is not so much that football is a major industry or that the viewing of it is so lucrative, but that the nature of work and leisure in America is altering. Why the Superdome instead of a factory, a university, a nuclear aircraft carrier or a hospital? Huey Long's Charity Hospital, two blocks from the Dome, was a major accomplishment in the Depression when work was sacred. But the four-day week is ahead. Child-care centers will free women from the household. We have reached zero population growth. Social Security is here to stay. It is not unreasonable, then, that leisure time, and the activity associated with it, will provide our landmarks and monuments of the future. The Superdome, like a time capsule, represents the direction of society. Yet even our kinds of leisure keep changing. Could the Superdome be obsolete almost before it is opened, just as by the time we had that man on the moon we had already turned around to save the earth?
Such a thought does not frighten Moon Landrieu. The mayor sees construction and public use of major projects in a light both harsh and philosophical. "I remember," the mayor says, "the great hue and cry in 1952 when New Orleans built, of all things, a grand railroad station. The critics kept saying, "Look to the future, the trains are on their way out." And that was true. But it really didn't matter if trains were dying. What a project like that does for the spiritual life of a community is enormous. It was right to build that train station. In a certain way, it would still be right to build it today. We live in a disposal society. Nobody builds monuments anymore.
"The Superdome is an exercise in optimism. A statement of faith. It is the very building of it that is important, not how much it is used or its economics. Remember the movie Zorba the Greek"? Zorba gets this whole lazy village building a cable railway, and it makes the place come alive. On opening day, during the big festival celebrating the construction, the railway collapses. So Zorba goes off to find another village. It's doing it that is important."
Mayor Moon Landrieu pauses to take a pensive puff on his cigar. Little more than a block away Starship Superdome sits in silence, eyeing the whole of New Orleans. The big question has not been answered after all. Where did it come from?