Helms Hall in Los Angeles, the finest sports museum and library in the world, was unusually quiet last week. There were no visitors, no chattering schoolchildren, not even a research fanatic poring over Battling Nelson's 21 scrapbooks, all bound in red leather. The well-used mimeograph machine, instead of cranking out news about, say, the Helms Fencing Hall of Fame, was silent. The champions, living there in photographs, cartoons, printed pages and engraved bric-a-brac, were playing to an empty house.
The phone rang in the office of Managing Director William R. Schroeder, breaking the silence. It was a long-distance call from Johnny Weissmuller, the best swimmer and best Tarzan there ever was, and he wanted to know if it was all true: Was the Helms Hall in financial trouble? Were the exhibits closed to the public? Was next January 31 the deadline for getting out? It conjured up the frightening picture of Schroeder and his assistant, Braven Dyer Jr., sitting on the dirt island in the middle of Venice Boulevard surrounded by a ton or so of their beloved memorabilia and ready to impale themselves on Stella Walsh's javelin. Weissmuller envisioned his own medals there, too, next to the javelin, and was worried.
"John, we're going to continue," said Schroeder confidently. "We're looking for a new benefactor, and we should be able to announce something in the next two or three weeks."
"O.K., Bill, I left my things there, and as far as I'm concerned they can stay forever."
Forever is what bakery magnate Paul Hoy Helms had in mind when he and Schroeder started the Helms Athletic Foundation 34 years ago. "This foundation is dedicated to the boys and girls of the finest nation in the world," Helms once said. "It has been set up in trust and financed so that it can be perpetuated perhaps forever and can never be altered. Otherwise, I could not accept these valuable trophies which now have a permanent place in Helms Hall."
But permanence is a fleeting thing these days. Though the death of Helms in 1957 did not affect the hall, supermarkets did, and Helms Bakeries, which sold bread and other baked goods from neighborhood touring trucks (a la the Good Humor man), ceased operations late last year. Its marketing method had become outmoded and it was too late to move into the supermarkets. Helms Hall was subsidized 100% by the bakery, there actually was no foundation or trust. So no bakery, no dough. As a result, the museum is for sale in a package with the rest of the West Los Angeles bakery for $3 million.
The cherished items inside the hall and the Helms Athletic Foundation's numerous award programs and halls of fame have been entrusted to Schroeder while the search goes on for an angel. What Schroeder has in mind is, "a representative, wholesome organization."
"Why, it's tailor-made for a big corporation, a savings and loan, an insurance company," says Helms Bakeries President Aaron Raboff.
Considering the money some corporations put into sport, it would seem easy enough to find a company to pick up Helms Hall's annual tab of slightly more than $100,000, but so far the chance to be associated with, say, Jesse Owens' spikes, has not wowed today's executives.
Schroeder recently sent out a prospectus describing the Helms Athletic Foundation as a sports museum "housing the most complete collection of trophies, awards, sports mementos, photographs in the world" and "the most complete sports library in the world." There have been nibbles—Sunkist, Voit sporting goods, a major insurance company and Jack Kent Cooke's Forum in suburban Inglewood—but no strikes.