HOUSTON -- Eight red-and-black turnstiles once let crowds of people into the Houston Astrodome, the iconic sports stadium that now stands empty and dilapidated.
On Saturday, Dave Warwick bought two of the beat-up, scratched pieces of metal for $4,100 a piece at a “yard sale” and auction. 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.
He was one of more than 4,000 people who stood in line for hours inside the Reliant Center, the convention center adjacent to the now-closed stadium, to buy Astrodome memorabilia. The line twisted through the center and out the door.
The first two people in line said they arrived at 5:20 a.m. to get a first look at the items up for grabs in the sale and auction. The sale opened at 8 a.m., and the auction was scheduled to begin at 9:30.
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 it into a giant convention center and exhibition space.
Houston-area leaders have said the so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World,” once home to the Houston Astros and the Houston Oilers, will probably be torn down if the ballot measure fails to pass on Tuesday.
For those looking for a cheap memento at the sale, a 12-inch by 12-inch 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.
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.”
Everything sold will come with a certificate of authenticity. Opened in 1965, the Astrodome was the world’s first multipurpose domed stadium. But no professional sports team has played there since 1999 and it’s been closed to all events since 2009.
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.
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.