By his own devices, Gary Cypres consciously surrounds himself with baseball history.
Yet, the uber-collector admitted he didn’t realize until maybe 10 or 15 years ago that the front doors of his current Sports Museum of Los Angeles are just a popup away from one of the city’s original hardball landmarks.
Cypres maintains his 32,000-square foot, two-story giant rectangle warehouse on the corner of Washington and Main, just southeast of the Santa Monica and Harbor Freeway convergence. As it turns out, right across the street from a parking lot and furniture design center is the former site of Washington Park. Between 1911 and 1925, that served the home field of both the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels and Vernon Tigers. Prior to that, it was Chutes Park, created in 1887 as an amusement park that also had a baseball diamond used by the Angels.
“I hadn’t known anything about it until someone told me,” said Cypres. “What an interesting discovery to be on hallowed baseball grounds, something that was part of the baseball fabric of L.A.”
Coincidentally, another Washington Park, in Brooklyn, is where the Dodgers’ franchise played (as the Superbas) at nearly the same time (1898 to 1911).
Maybe it’s just part of Cypres’ karma.
“We’ll leave that up to whoever believes in that,” he replied with a smile.
It’s more than just popular believe that Cypres, who made his fortunes in the finance and travel business, continues to maintain the largest and most provocative private collection of sports memorabilia around.
Once opened to the public in 2008, only to close a year later for business reasons, the Sports Museum of L.A. remains an important landmark of its own.
Cypres allows charities to use it as a fund-raising gathering as well as stage events such as the one coming Wednesday, when Dodgers president Stan Kasten will appear for a town hall meeting attended by Los Angeles News Group readers.
Cypres, who has amassed his multimillion dollar collection through auctions and private contacts, collected his thoughts for us on various aspects of the sports memorabilia business as it stands today and continues to evolve:
Q: The question of how all this started – how far back does it actually go?
A: It has to start with childhood, as it is for most collectors. I was born in the Bronx, lived in an apartment building until I was 16 and invariably as a city kid, we’d take to the streets looking for things to play with and that was the great age of baseball in New York – the ‘50s – and naturally the interest was in baseball cards. I don’t think we even focused on football or basketball. Baseball was king. And I was not too far from Yankee Stadium. So we began collecting the baseball cards, but unfortunately we didn’t take very good care of them. We used them as props for things like shooting, flipping and gambling, in bicycle spokes, all kinds of silly things. That’s the origin in my case of how I had this urge to collect and trade.
It went dormant for a while when I had to make a living for myself and family over the years, but then you have to reach a certain economic level to seriously collect. I was fortunate at an early age to get to that level. Maybe 25 years ago, believe it or not, I started collecting tennis and golf equipment in Europe. I was passing by a store with antique golf and tennis stuff in it in London, and I wasn’t exactly sure what happened, but I went in and was hooked on it. I was fascinated by the old clubs and racquets that were made long before today’s technology.
Once I started there, it didn’t take me long to switch to my American roots and my childhood. I was always in love with equipment, and in love with the Yankees and Dodgers, so while I started in one field, it quickly became to me more desirable to get into baseball – the oldest sport and the one that mirrors the national pastime until the advent of television when football and basketball was bigger. I didn’t have a TV until the mid-‘50s, so to listen to baseball on the radio and read the box scores every single day in the newspapers – I still do, and my kids look at me like some old elephant trying to recapture his youth, but I can’t get over it, even though they’re online. I started to collect in generic baseball things – the evolution of the first bats and balls, gloves and stadiums, and I’m so fond of the old stuff versus the new technology. And as a big Yankee fan, I collected things from that team, but then moving here to L.A., I saw the rivalry and knew everything about the Brooklyn Dodgers, so I began to get more Dodgers stuff and eventually amass this unique and wonderful Dodger collection, which I’m happy with and probably is the best collection of this sort. I added to the Yankees things, during the ‘50s, my attempt to recapture my youth.
Once you start with the Brooklyn Dodgers, given their history and integration and moving West, it wasn’t hard to continue on. That’s what I did in my collection. I moved on, added things from the 1959 World Series, to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s when they were winning and very competitive. I continue to add to it today. Along the way I got all the old card sets, particularly through the ‘60s, which I wasn’t originally interested in because the older sets are really quite beautiful, artistic in design and changing. We have a room devoted to the old sets which so many like.
The collection keeps growing. I’m refining it as most do over the years. I’ve recently bought Newcombe’s MVP and Cy Young and Rookie of the Year trophies – things like this fortunately keep coming up, or as my wife says, unfortunately keep coming up. I keep diverting resources into the Dodger collection and will continue to do so. It’s a wonderful legacy and history and the Dodgers in particular have such an historical presence in American history given integration, moving West. To me, the Dodgers and Yankees represent the history of baseball that continues through this day.
Q: In moving from New York to L.A., did you bring a lot of the things with you from storage?
A: Yes, originally before this building, you’d have seen quite a few storage containers on this piece of property, the kind you’d see on the shipping docks, all locked up. Slowly but surely we began move toward me saying I was going to build a museum, not knowing what that even meant and what was involved, 15 years ago.
TO BE CONTINUED …