You may plan to spend only an hour or two at the Paul Ziffren Sports Resource Center, but chances are you'll stay three or four. The Ziffren Center, part of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, houses the nation's largest sports library, which contains 450,000 books, periodicals, game programs and media guides, and another 100,000 photographs, films and videos.
At the Ziffren you can peruse an autographed copy of Jack Dempsey's Round by Round or Gilbert West's Odes of Pindar, With several other Pieces in Prose and Verse, to which is added A Dessertation on the Olympick Games together with original poems on several Occasions, published in 1766. You can read old issues of The Sporting News (dating from 1886), Yachting (from 1907), Field and Stream (from 1911) and in the cockfighting section, The Feathered Warrior (from 1916). The library subscribes to 225 periodicals and is adding current photos, books and videos all the time.
The longer you linger, the more fun you'll have. Inside the program for the 1961 Temple-Lafayette football game is a photo of a grinning Temple sophomore halfback named Bill Cosby. In the 1939 edition of Spalding's Intercollegiate and Interscholastic Swimming Guide you'll find a list of every Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League participant who scored at least one point during the '38 season. Toward the bottom is Harvard sophomore backstroker John Kennedy, who finished with two points. "Visitors tell us, 'You guys have everything,' " says the library's director, Dr. Wayne Wilson.
The Amateur Athletic Foundation is part of the legacy of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Created in 1985 with Southern California's $90 million share of the Games' $230 million profit, the foundation funds a wide range of local youth sports programs. The $3.1 million library, named for Paul Ziffren, the chairman of the board of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and the AAF's first chairman, borders AAF headquarters in Los Angeles's historic Britt House on West Adams Boulevard.
What's especially remarkable about the Ziffren Center's collection is that, for the most part, it was accumulated by two passionate sports fans. Roughly half of the material was rounded up by a Los Angeleno named Bill Schroeder, who began collecting sports books as a student at Hollywood High in the late 1920s. Before the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Paul Helms, owner of Helms Bakery in Culver City, sponsored a slogan contest, which Schroeder won.
The two men became lifelong friends. In 1936 Helms established the Helms Athletic Foundation and appointed Schroeder its librarian. The foundation grew to include Schroeder's ever-expanding collection and a sports museum, though it never occupied its own building. Helms died in 1957 and the bakery was sold in 1970. In succeeding years, Schroeder's collection passed through several hands, and in 1985 it was donated to the fledgling Amateur Athletic Foundation. Schroeder died two years later.
During the same period but independent of Schroeder and Helms, Fred Imhof, a Libby, McNeil & Libby cannery supervisor in Sunnyvale, Calif., had also amassed a vast sports library before his death in 1971. Imhof's interests ranged far and wide, and his collection, which he named the National Library of Sports, included annual compilations of boxing results that predate Ring magazine, and nearly 50,000 media guides and college football programs. The highlight of Imhof's collection was his indexing system, with 175,000 three-by-five cards on which were typed 1.5 million references and cross-references to events and athletes—human, canine and equine.
Last September, the AAF purchased the Imhof collection. "We'd been eyeing it for a couple of years, but we were too busy getting our own operation going," says Wilson. Four 28-foot semitrailers were needed to move the 35 tons of material from the basement of the San Jose public library, where it was in storage. Wilson hopes to complete the collating, binding and computerized cataloging by the end of the year.
Sportswriters, movie producers and term-paper researchers have found the Ziffren Center invaluable, and the staff has answered obscure questions phoned in from such diverse places as the White House, the L.A. County Jail and the Jeopardy! staff. The library, however, is still something of an unintentionally well-kept secret, attracting perhaps 20 visitors on a busy day. Wilson is confident that interest in it will grow, but he's not looking for big crowds. The fun, after all, is in wandering freely through the library. Just be sure you're not in a hurry.