Friday, October 9, 2009

Sports Museum of Los Angeles

My husband Tim and I had the great fortune to attend a fundraiser at the Sports Museum of Los Angeles last night. The cause was completely worthwhile: raising money for Junior Achievement of Southern California, a terrific volunteer organization that teaches kids financial literacy. The real reason we were there, though, was to see the Sports Museum.

Tim, of course, is a far bigger sports fan than I’ll ever be; but I do love baseball and get especially misty-eyed when I see footage of the team I adored when I was a kid: the L.A. Dodgers. We have since switched our allegiance to the Angels, partially because Tim used to work for the radio station that broadcasted their games. Still, as native Angelenos who grew-up here when the Dodgers were truly phenomenal, we retain a soft spot in our hearts for the boys in blue. And having them in the play-offs this year doesn’t hurt either!

I had read about the Sports Museum, but was totally unprepared for what I was about to see. The 32,000 square foot building, located on Washington and Main in downtown L.A., houses over 10,000 items displayed in 30 “galleries.” The museum, owned by entrepreneur Gary Cypres, is the largest private sports collection in the world. Although most American sports are represented, baseball—in particular, the Dodgers and Yankees (Cypres was originally from NYC)—is especially emphasized, with an entire room dedicated to Babe Ruth memorabilia. The walls of another room are covered in framed baseball cards. There are exhibits of the evolution of baseball mitts, balls and uniforms, and several replicas of Ebbets field and other long-gone stadiums. Cypres told last night’s crowd that, even more than the sports themselves, he loves the history of sports and so purposely displays his collection to show how athletics has grown and changed.

As magnificent as the collection is, the museum, from a librarian’s perspective, could stand to be better organized and managed. Descriptions of each item are lacking as are narrative signs explaining the significance of some of the exhibits. I was also appalled at the lighting, which is far brighter than any museum I’ve ever visited. Sure, it’s great from a fan’s point of view, but I worry about the integrity of the artifacts. Will the lights eventually lead to fading or other disintegration? And what preservation techniques are being used overall? I also wonder if Cypres has a collection plan or if he just purchases items on whim and/or instinct. His passion did, after all, start by happenstance when he bought an old tennis racket in London many years ago. Now he’s got thousands of items to care for and house. What will eventually happen to the collection if there is no plan?

Nevertheless, if you’re a collector and/or sports aficionado, the Sports Museum of Los Angeles is a must for you. It’s open now only through appointment, so if you get invited to an event there, by all means go!

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