Facelift on deck at Ruth museum

Work will make facility accessible to the disabled

December 30, 2005|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Citing a need for more space and access for the disabled, officials at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum are taking a swing at revamping the home of the venerable Sultan of Swat.

An $850,000 renovation is scheduled to begin next fall at the city-owned facility, which draws about 40,000 visitors a year, the officials said. Plans include bringing the museum - comprising four rowhouses - up to code, narrowing the focus to the Babe and adding office space for the growing staff.

Opened in 1974, the two-story museum at 216 Emory St. features exhibits on the career and life of George Herman Ruth, but its stairs are impassable to anyone in a wheelchair. As part of the renovation, an elevator, larger bathrooms and an entrance ramp will be installed.

"This is a national attraction, a national shrine, and it should be accessible to a nation of fans," said Mike Gibbons, the museum's executive director. "It's long been an important mission of ours."

Gibbons said the museum will close next fall for the work, and he hopes it will reopen in time for the 2007 baseball season.

The city's Board of Estimates, which oversees spending and contracts, approved a $250,000 grant for the project this month. The rest of the cost will be covered by a state grant and private donations. Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. was selected as the general contractor.

The Ruth birthplace was joined earlier this year by Sports Legends at Camden Yards, a larger museum in the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station - Camden Station - at Oriole Park. Both museums are overseen by the same board.

The new museum increased the organization's staff by 50 percent to about 24 people - many of whom work at the birthplace, Gibbons said. The project will add about 1,200 square feet to the 7,000-square- foot museum to accommodate those new employees.

Visitors will also notice changes to some exhibits, as the museum becomes more focused on Babe Ruth. Over the years, it evolved into a museum for the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Colts - exhibits now housed at Sports Legends.

"We're going to be a lot more interactive," Gibbons said of his plans for the birthplace. "There will be a lot more audio-video presentations to the public. We're making the building more dynamic."

Visitors praise the birthplace museum for telling the story not just of Ruth's baseball feats, but also his personal life. Born in 1895, Ruth was sent to St. Mary's Industrial School in West Baltimore, where he played on the school's team. He was discovered by Orioles owner Jack Dunn in 1914.

The museum includes a re-creation of the second-floor bedroom where Ruth was born and an vast supply of photographs. In all, the two museums have roughly 10,000 pieces of sports memorabilia.

"This was outstanding, it really was," said Ruth Grant, 81, of Linthicum, who toured the museum this week with her daughter and grandson. "I think one of the nicest things are the personal touches - it's not just baseball."

Ruth's birthplace had fallen into disrepair by the late 1960s and had been scheduled for demolition until Hirsh Goldberg, press secretary for then-Mayor Theodore McKeldin, brought attention to the house through a two-page news release that turned into a national story.

Now a nonprofit group, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, leases the space from the city and operates the museum.

"From here came one of the major figures in not just sports but American history," Goldberg said. "I think people in Baltimore should be proud of it."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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