The museum's Joe DiMaggio exhibit. Photo: Sports Museum of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has its share of museums built on the personal collections of one individual, but Gary Cypres' shrine to sports (mostly baseball) is right up there with Eli Broad's Grand Avenue temple of art. They are not comparable in architecture or in the streams of tourists lined up outside, but the Sports Museum of Los Angeles is just as much the reflection of one man's big passion. The sports museum at the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard just south of the 10 freeway below downtown holds a large selection of the sports memorabilia and folk art famously collected by Cypres over three decades. Housed in 32,000 square feet on the ground floor of a multi-story industrial building he built for his businesses, the public collection includes 10,000 pieces in 30 separate galleries.
I've been hearing about the Cypres collection for years, but it has been mostly closed to the public and I had never gotten to see it. So when the museum opened Saturday for new public hours on weekends, I went over to take a look. Cypres was there for opening day and happy to show off his life's sideline. The former New Yorker has large detailed models of Ebbets Field and the Polo Ground where the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants played, plus seats and turnstiles from long-vanished stadiums, and old bats, balls gloves, jerseys and catchers' gear from every era of professional baseball. There's even a few examples of the little machines used to draw chalk lines on ball fields through the decades. A room devoted to folk art on a sports theme has some astounding items, including the items that were featured in an exhibition at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in the Miracle Mile district in 2012.
Cypres loves his baseball but he sounded especially proud of his galleries devoted to African Americans in sports, with impressive collections of Jackie Robinson. Negro Leagues and boxing lore. The basketball gallery features a large display on the Harlem Globetrotters and women playing basketball almost 100 years ago; until Saturday I didn't realize that the original basketball goals were truly baskets, and there were no backboards.
The museum's grand opening exhibit is 20,000 square feet devoted to the Dodgers — uniforms, warm-up jackets, tickets, trophies, gloves and mitts, and promotional ephemera from the Los Angeles and Brooklyn years. There's some dirt and the first ball thrown out at the 1913 opening of Ebbets Field, the World Series MVP trophy won by pitcher Johnny Podres in 1955, a Dodgers championship trophy from the 1981 World Series, and several items from Don Drysdale's career, including the ball glove he used while playing at Van Nuys High School. "It’s the best sports museum in the world,” former Dodgers’ owner Peter O’Malley says in the flackage for the museum. The baseball treasures include game-worn jerseys of Yankees stars Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, and a Honus Wagner baseball card that the museum says is "the Holy Grail among collectors." There are walls and walls dedicated to baseball trading cards.
It's all worth millions of dollars. As is the building where the museum sits, just south of downtown but within the sphere of rapid appreciation and gentrification that is changing the stretch between the Arts District and the USC area. Cypres bought the land after the block of small shops was torched in the 1992 riots, and built his building, which is also headquarters for his line of travel businesses serving mostly a Latino clientele. The area is appreciating so fast that Cypres isn't sure how long that so much space can be devoted solely to displaying his sports collection. The museum is two blocks from a Blue Line station and surrounded by potential development targets.
For now, though, the Sports Museum of Los Angeles is open to all on weekends from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 65 and over and students with ID, and $9 for children ages 5-12. The premises are accessible other times for tours and private events.