This Villanova Man Wants to Bring a Sports Museum to Philadelphia
Lou Scheinfeld has exhibits, a building design and the government's approval, but he still needs the funds to make his dream happen.
Photo By Tessa Marie Images.
Lou Scheinfeld was present at the beginning of the Spectrum, and he was there at the end, when late Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider brought him in to oversee the sale of just about anything imaginable from the dearly departed sports arena. Scheinfeld found a company willing to buy the glycol that refrigerated the ice. He offloaded about 10,000 bricks to Philadelphians in search of memories. He even sold crystalized ice from the final Phantoms AHL hockey game played there. “We raised about $5 million,” he notes.
Scheinfeld ran the Spectrum from 1967 to 1981, and he has enough stories to fill a book. Not coincidentally, he’s writing one. “I have to wait for two more people to die before I can tell all the stories,” he says. wIt’s hard to spend any time in the basement office of Scheinfeld’s Villanova home and not notice his deep ties to the Spectrum, which was shuttered in 2009 and completely gone by the summer of 2011. There are the many photos of luminaries who performed on its stage, and there’s a framed jersey with Scheinfeld’s name on the back, accented by the Spectrum’s signature colors of red, orange, green and blue. Scheinfeld met Elvis, and he was the man responsible for having Kate Smith sing “God Bless America” before Flyers games. “Every night, 20,000 people come in,” says Scheinfeld, who’s also working on a pilot for a TV show about running an arena. “There’s plenty of drama.”
Say what you want about its cramped concourses and sketchy restrooms, the Spectrum was a huge part of Philadelphia’s sporting history. Scheinfeld’s latest project is about a different kind of nostalgia, and it’s proving a lot harder to sell than the 5,000 Spectrum seats purchased by fans.
His Museum of Sports already has a home, a design, a game plan and some amazing exhibit items, including Jim Thorpe’s leather helmet and his Bible. Hatched by Scheinfeld and Snider during a 2003 brainstorming session, it has spent the last 16 years sputtering through a series of funding starts and stops.
At first, it looked like the museum was a sure thing. Snider and the Flyers were behind it. So was Lewis Katz, the highly successful businessman who once co-owned sports teams and the Philadelphia Inquirer. But then Katz died in a plane crash in 2014 and Snider fell ill, twin calamities that derailed the museum’s momentum. “People involved with Comcast Spectacor now have different goals,” Scheinfeld says.
The facility is slated to occupy 20,000 square feet of the Jetro building at the corner of Darien Street and Pattison Avenue. With more funding, it could grow by another 13,000 square feet. Scheinfeld estimates that it would cost $6 million to “do a bang-up job” and $4 million to do something “that’s not as special.” There’s $2 million committed, and Scheinfeld believes the state would be good for a $1 million grant, so long as the rest of the money is raised. He says Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Philadelphia City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke think the museum is a “no-brainer.” But Scheinfeld and his team haven’t yet been able to find enough donors who agree. “We need an angel,” he says. “There has to be someone out there who has the wherewithal and loves sports and wants to do something great for Philadelphia.”
The museum will house items from Philadelphia’s rich sports history, and much of it will come from the private collection of South Jersey cardiologist Nicholas DePace, one of the nation’s largest accumulators of sports artifacts. “Many are one-a-kind pieces—like Frank Sinatra’s golf clubs,” says DePace.
Area colleges will also have the opportunity to create exhibits. Each pro team will be represented, as will local teams no longer with us, like the legendary South Philadelphia Hebrew Association basketball team and the Philadelphia A’s. DePace has the A’s jacket worn just once by Connie Mack.
Visitors will get to sound the ringside bell from the 1926 heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, which drew more than 120,000 to Sesquicentennial Municipal Stadium (later JFK Stadium) in the pouring rain. Jesse Owens’ track shirt from the 1936 Olympics will be there, as will the trunks and robe worn by Joe Frazier when he squared off with Muhammad Ali in their 1971 “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden. “We’ll rotate new stuff in all the time, depending on the season,” Scheinfeld says. “In September, we’ll add NFL items. In April, it will be Major League Baseball. We’ll have a history of the Army-Navy Game in November.”
Scheinfeld is also planning for a banquet area and a virtual reality section. He also sees the museum benefitting from the continued popularity of Xfinity Live! (on the site of the old Spectrum) and plans for a casino and an Esports arena—to the tune of adding a restaurant or brewpub.
The plans are exciting. The design—by local architect EwingCole—is inviting. All that’s needed now is the cash. “We’ll be the only museum in the United States celebrating all the major sports that will be open every day,” says Scheinfeld.
And just a short walk from the site of his beloved Spectrum.