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Flood Of Memories

The Cypres Sports Museum could feature the greatest collection of sports memorabilia in history.

June 18, 2007|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Only the lucky ones so far have made it inside the Cypres Sports Museum, now taking shape in a nondescript office building about a mile south of Staples Center. Admission to the memorabilia collection in downtown Los Angeles has been by invitation only, but next spring, owner Gary Cypres will open the doors to his treasure trove of baseball, football, golf, tennis and other sports memorabilia that he has amassed during a two-decade collecting binge.

Former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley ranks the Dodgers' section of the Cypres collection as "the best that I know of," and is ecstatic that the museum will be open to the public. "It's too good to only be seen by appointment. Schoolchildren, adults, collectors and baseball fans, not just from the U.S., but from Japan and all over the world should be able to see it."

The museum's crown jewel might be the uniform Babe Ruth wore during his barnstorming tour of Japan after the 1934 season, and that Cypres purchased for $800,000. Or maybe it's the T206 Honus Wagner trading card that represents a Holy Grail among collectors -- a similar one in perfect condition sold recently for $2 million.

Among the nearly 10,000 items in the 63-year-old businessman's collection: an early Heisman Trophy, an original cornice stone from Yankee Stadium, a handful of infield dirt scooped from Ebbets Field before the first game was played in 1913 and a sign hung by the demolition company that leveled the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers ballpark in 1960.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 19, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball: An index item about sports memorabilia in the Sports section on Monday misspelled the name of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio as DeMaggio.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Ice skating: An article about sports memorabilia published June 19 in the Sports section misspelled the name of figure skater Sonja Henie as Heinie.

Cooperstown is baseball, Canton sticks with football and Springfield revolves around basketball, but Cypres' collection covers many sports. "His museum has such great breadth and depth," said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. "It goes far beyond the Dodgers and baseball to almost every sport. It's an amazing little place."

There are stories around every corner: Cast-iron putters. Rowing equipment. Original basketball hoops -- the kind with closed bottoms. Game jerseys worn by Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willis Reed and most of the NBA's legendary big men. Leather football helmets from Red Grange's era. A Dodgers' 1981 World Series trophy. Babe Ruth's shotgun, plus the travel trunk he hauled during the Japanese tour. The bat that Ruth used to swat his 58th and 59th home runs (it cost Cypres more than $400,000). A bench fashioned during the 1950s from balls and bats signed by such luminaries as Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Dizzy Dean.

The museum has antique golf clubs, sports-themed arcade and board games dating to the 1800s and hundreds of movie posters featuring Sonja Heinie, Buster Crabbe and other athletes who made Hollywood star turns. The walls are covered with uniforms, championship pennants and analog scoreboards.

Los Angeles Sports Council Chairman Alan Rothenberg says local sports fans will embrace the museum when it opens, and that word will spread quickly among out-of-town fans. "Done right, it could become one of the 'must' stops for tourists," said Rothenberg who has toured the museum. "It's only a question of how much he chooses to expose it. It could become an icon."

The New York-born Cypres, who played basketball at Hofstra University before going into business and settling in L.A., made his fortune in the finance, mortgage and travel agency businesses. He began collecting in the 1980s with a handful of stylish French tennis rackets that date to the 1800s. His collection mushroomed during the last decade and overflowed his house, attic and several storage bins. Four years ago he sold one of his businesses and turned the space into a museum. Cypres estimates its value, along with the building that houses it, at $30 million

Cypres serves as designer, curator and all-around museum handyman. He wants fans, particularly children, to get as close as possible to the exhibits and many items are out in the open, not under glass. He also is writing the panels that explain the exhibits.

Instead of subdued spotlights there are banks of fluorescent lights. "I like bright places, and many museums are dark," Cypres said. And, as for the prospect of 100-year-old uniforms fading under the bright lights? "I figure that they've lasted for 100 years and are probably going to be OK for another 100 years."

Experts say it would be hard to duplicate what Cypres has amassed. "A lot of people talk about opening this kind of museum, but nobody ever does it," said David Hunt, owner of an Exton, Pa.-based sports auction house that helped Cypres build his collection.

One exhibit honors the imaginary young woman who issues the invitation to "Take Me Out to The Ballgame" in baseball's unofficial anthem. (The little-known first line: "Katie Casey was baseball mad, had the fever and had it bad.") Another will showcase a century-old stained glass window from a German elementary school that depicts an angel standing watch over children playing baseball.

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