Marc Blau, president of the Shanaman Sports Museum at the Tacoma Dome, had to use all of his powers of persuasion to convince long-time volunteer John Wohn to show up at the facilities’ last day on Thursday.
“When I asked him to come down there for the final day, he said he couldn’t do it. It would hurt too much. I had to twist his arm about it for 10 minutes but he said he would be there,” Blau said.
The museum houses some of the area’s historic sports artifacts and mementos for the past 24 years is now without a home. On Thursday it will be open from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. — parking and admission is free — but after that, the future is unclear.
“I’m going to miss the people,” said Wohn, 84 and a volunteer at the museum since its beginnings in 1994. “We’d have people come in and look around and we get a chance to talk to the people about the history of Tacoma sports. There’s a lot of history there.”
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Trouble was, fewer and fewer people made their way through the doors. Blau said attendance has dwindled as the Dome, site of this weekend’s state high school football championships on Friday and Saturday, has hosted fewer sporting events.
“When we had soccer and hockey here, our numbers were at about 13,000-15,000 visitors a year,” Blau said, noting the Tacoma Stars and Sabercats used to call the Dome home. “Since both of those sports have left, our number have dropped to about 3,000-4,000 visitors a year.”
The museum remained open even after its 20-year agreement with the Dome ended in 2014. The Dome, after a summer renovation, has unspecified plans for the space the museum currently occupies, Blau said.
Until a spot can be secured and built, Blau is faced with storing the museum’s contents.
In the collection is an autographed game-worn Boston Celtics jersey and shoes by former Curtis High School and Univeristy of Washington star Isaiah Thomas; a Jermaine Kearse (Lakes High School, UW) game-worn Seattle Seahawks jersey; an autographed baseball by Babe Ruth when he played in a game in 1924 in Tacoma while on a barn-storming tour; former Mount Tahoma star Ahmad Rashad’s Minnesota Vikings football jersey and helmet; former Bellarmine Prep star Jon Lesters’ Boston Red Sox World Series jersey; Olympic gold medals; baseball championship rings, and Tacoma-native Alex Montgomery’s game-worn San Antonio Stars jersey.
“The first priority us is to find storage space,” Blau said. “We have many items that need the space and adequate temperature, climate-controlled rooms.”
Blau said a solution likely won’t come by the end of year. He thinks a spot could secured some time in the next year, but the board “may have to do some fund-raising and that could be a two to three-year process.”
Blau believes Cheney Stadium would be a perfect place.
“We reached out to them when we were notified about needed to move about 18 months ago,” he said. “We believe it is the ideal place for the museum’s location. With all of the games and events that go on at the stadium, it enhances the ballpark experience.”
Another option is one that Blau doesn’t want to contemplate. Should no facility be found, the items could be auctioned off.
“If we can’t find funding for a new building, we may have to donate, divest some items,” Blau said.
“I would be open to donating items to different places like taking Ken Still’s Ryder Cup bag to Chambers Bay. We view that as the last last option. I am disappointed in this happening but I remain optimistic that we can get something working here soon.”
The idea of a local sports museum began in the 1980s but didn’t pick up steam until Blau joined the Tacoma Athletic Commission in 1988. Blau, along with Clay Hunnington, spearheaded the project that culminated in the October 1994 opening of the museum.
The facility has become almost a second home to Wohn, who moved to Tacoma in 1962 from Michigan.
“I started cataloging items and putting them into the computer and getting things organized, Marc really got me into that,” Wohn said.
“Even when there would be tractor and RV shows, people would stop in and tell us that our stuff is more interesting than what they actually came there for.”
Blau said he doesn’t what to expect for the museum’s final three hours.
“Sports has meant so much to the community,” he said. “I would have liked to see us have a more grand finale but I am excited for Thursday.”