Sports Museum of L.A. closes to general public

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Less than three months after staging a grand ceremony to open the doors to his new Sports Museum of L.A., curator and collector Gary Cypres decided to close access to the public because of a lack of patrons during the recent turn in the economy.

The 32,000-square-foot museum, which opened on the Friday after Thanksgiving (story linked here), closed this last weekend and will remain so to the public until this summer, according to a message posted on its website (linked here). It had been charging $17.50 a ticket to adults and $11 to children aged 5-12.

A spokesman for the museum said Cypress was not getting the attendance he had hoped for — it was open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday — and the overhead costs, which included security, was too great to keep it operational on a daily basis.

Cypress still has the museum available to groups of more than 15 (with a reservation) and to private parties looking for stage fundraising events. The museum is offering refunds to those who have bought gift certificates.

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The museum, at 1900 S. Main Street in L.A., contains about 10,000 artifacts valued at more than $30 million, including a T206 Honus Wagner trading card; balls from Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, including the last caught by Cleveland’s Ken Keltner to end it; several unique Babe Ruth uniforms; Barry Bonds’ 755th home run ball; the 1941 Heisman Trophy awarded to Minnesota’s Bruce Smith; the original cornerstone from Yankee Stadium in 1923; the first balls used at Ebbets Field (1913) and Fenway Park (1912), and Gary Cooper’s gray New York jersey worn when he portrayed Lou Gehrig in the movie “Pride of the Yankees”

We can’t say we didn’t see this coming. In early December, we ran across a story about the financial problems that the Sports Museum of American in New York was having (linked here).

Then came the news today: That museum decided Friday to close its doors, as well as shutdown its website, because of financial difficulties. A spokesman said the museum is in the process of “implementing an orderly process to ensure the safe return of all the artifacts.” It opened in May, 2008.

Nine months ago, the museum that was the new home for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, reopened after it restructured its debts. It also houses the Billie Jean King International Women’s Sports Center. Yet the museum was hurt by a $6 million construction cost overrun that ate into the its marketing budget.

Operational costs by individual operators of museums are too tough to manage. Most museums are owned by cities or counties, or have large fundraisers and memberships, to keep them sustained. A museum for sports is a fine idea — that’s what the Hall of Fame for baseball, football, basketball and hockey have found. But even they struggle with attendance and ticket pricing. They have to change to keep people coming back. The same exhibits in the same places work to an extent.

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Cypress’ hurdle is probably that he started a collection of sports memorabilia and never intended it to be a museum. It doesn’t cover everything, and it’s not really L.A.-centric. Cypress was hoping also to come up with some naming rights to the place. On top of all that, it’s not in a place that’s convenient to general public traffic. Had it found a home in L.A. Live, or at Staples Center, that might be much easier to access. Instead it’s east of all that activity, in a part of downtown that may someday become revived as a business district, but right now sits in a somewhat destitute, run-down section near the L.A. Mart.

Cypress has had plenty of problems to date just to get this place open to the public. The shame is that even targeting this summer as a time to reopen can’t be guaranteed.

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  • Marjorie

    I have never heard of this museum, it’s very sad that it isn’t open to the public but more so that I missed the event honoring Jackie Robinson!!!
    KTLA channel 5 covers everything LA…get their help. I would love to see this museum. Do the Dodgers, Lakers,Kings know about you? Get some help, they have $$$.
    Best wishes.
    Marjorie