HOUSTON (AP) — Thousands of people turned up Saturday for the chance to take home a piece of the iconic, but dilapidated Houston Astrodome, once dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world."
The "yard sale" and auction got under way in the morning at the Reliant Center, the convention center adjacent to the now-closed domed stadium. More than 4,000 people were inside or waiting to get in by about 10 a.m. Saturday, Reliant Park officials said, the line twisting through the center and out the door.
For those looking for a cheap memento at the sale, a 12-inch by 12-inch (30-centimeter by 30-centimeter) piece of AstroTurf cost $20. It sold out before the sale ended. Seats went for $200 a pair, and after the in-person stock sold out Saturday, people could purchase seats that they can pick up in December.
Larger items, including autographed lockers and dugout benches, were auctioned off.
Dave Warwick bought two of the beat-up, scratched red-and-black turnstiles that once let crowds into the Astrodome for $4,100 a piece.
He said they brought back fond memories of when, as a sailor from Liverpool, England, he visited friends in 1966 and saw his first baseball game.
"That's the first entrance into the Astrodome. It's the click. I just wanted them," said Warwick, 71, who ended up moving to Houston in 1983 and now runs a shipping agency.
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was the world's first multipurpose domed stadium. It was home to the Major League Baseball's Houston Astros and the National Football League's Houston Oilers. But no professional sports team has played there since 1999 and the stadium has been closed to all events since 2009.
The sale and auction came just days before voters will decide whether to approve a referendum that would authorize up to $217 million in bonds to turn the Astrodome into a giant convention center and exhibition space. Houston-area leaders have said that if the referendum fails, the Astrodome will probably be razed.
A poll conducted in mid-September by Rice University in Houston found 45 percent of likely voters supported the referendum, with 35 percent opposing it and nearly 20 percent still undecided.
With its fate still undecided, the Astrodome was awash in nostalgia Saturday. Some people showed up in the Astros' famous orange-striped "rainbow" jerseys from the 1970s. Others wore old Oilers caps, commemorating a team that left Houston for Nashville to become the Tennessee Titans in the late 1990s after failing to get a new stadium.
A locker autographed by beloved Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell sold for $2,200. A sideline bench Campbell autographed sold for $1,800, and one autographed by former Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini went for $650.
Michael Berry, a former Houston councilman, paid $1,500 for a locker autographed by former Astros player Jose Cruz. Berry said the locker will be displayed with other Astros and Oilers memorabilia he has at a bar called the "Redneck Country Club."
"It's where you were at that time, when you were a child. You remember your parents bringing you to a baseball game. You remember the time you spent with your father," Berry said. "It's all about memories rather than bricks and mortar."
While Berry said the Astrodome should be torn down, others at the sale said the stadium should be kept and that they planned to vote in favor of the referendum.
Marcos Escobar said he hopes the Astrodome survives, but just in case it doesn't, he made sure to get to the sale.
"I wanted to come out here and get something before they tear it down," said Escobar, who bought four squares of AstroTurf and two pairs of seats.
Proceeds from the sale will go toward an ongoing Astrodome renovation project that is tearing down some exterior portions of the stadium for safety reasons. Officials say the project, which was approved earlier this year by county commissioners, had to be done regardless of the Astrodome's future.