It’s been a little more than a year since it was made public that the Gershman Y would be vacating its home of more than 90 years. Beloved programs like Latkepalooza and Moo Shu Jew were just some of the many casualties of the end of the Gershman Y’s time on Broad Street.
Yet another was the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
On July 3, the PJSHOF will open in its new home at the Jewish Community Services Building at 2100 Arch St., home of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. For Steve Frishberg, chairman of the PJSHOF for 14 years, it represents not only the completion of an exciting, rewarding project, but a chance to revitalize the museum and what it should represent for Jewish Philadelphians.
So what did it take to get here?
“A lot,” he laughed.
When he and the board of the PJSHOF were told last year that they would be losing their space at the Gershman Y, the search for a new home began almost immediately.
Initially, it was fruitless. Conversations with Congregation Mikveh Israel, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Gratz College and the Kaiserman JCC didn’t get far; Frishberg and the board sought a whole room for the PJSHOF, where the same plaques that hung at the Gershman Y might hang along with the same memorabilia that had been on display.
It was not until Frishberg discussed the future of the PJSHOF with Steve Rosenberg, chief marketing officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, that a real option presented itself. Rosenberg offered an “interesting space,” in Frishberg’s words: There was room in the back of the large computer lab in the basement of the Jewish Community Services Building, as well as under the stairway leading to the basement. Frishberg was interested in the interesting space, and it was reserved for the PJSHOF.
That was back in January. Six months of designing and fundraising followed, and Frishberg praised board members and past inductees for their generosity in bringing the PJSHOF back to a reality.
And that reality is much different than the one that existed at the Gershman Y.
The plaques have been replaced by an interactive touch screen and monitors, which will cycle through the past inductees on the back wall of that computer lab. The amount of total text to take in at once has been reduced, and the memorabilia will be cycled out as well, to keep the exhibits fresh. Under the stairwell, mock lockers filled with memorabilia add to the feeling that the PJSHOF honors real, live people, rather than inaccessible legends.
A lot of those changes are thanks to Stephanie Reyer, a professor at the University of the Arts and an exhibition designer who formerly worked as the head of exhibits at the National Constitution Center. Reyer said that she felt invigorated by the unconventional space that was given to her.
“Unique design comes out of unique challenges,” she said.
Getting rid of the plaques, Frishberg said, came when Reyer told him that they gave the museum a “19th century feel.” Reyer, when told this story, laughed and said that she believed she had said 1980s, but that the point stood either way. For the PJSHOF to really become a draw, and to light up the basement of the building, it would have to make fundamental changes. Thus, monitors and touch screens.
She retooled the PJSHOF from a straight-line experience to something with “multiple access points,” she said, allowing for visitors to wander in and out, and follow what interests them at the exhibits. She also added more faces to the exhibits, especially on the tall banners listing the inductees of the last several years.
“Exhibits are always more successful when you can make eye contact with somebody,” she said.
Ultimately, the goals of the new design are fairly simple, Reyer said. It must remind people that such a place exists, first and foremost, but, just as importantly, for the “stories of the athletes being made engaging and accessible and fun,” she said.
Reyer is pleased with the finished product, and was complimentary of Frishberg’s collaboration throughout the process. And Frishberg gave his own endorsement as well.
“We’ve very satisfied with the way it looks,” he said. “Very satisfied.”
Though there will be no event marking the opening on July 3, Frishberg added, he hoped to host a cocktail party in the fall in the space. On top of that, he is in conversation with some of the once-potential venues for the PJSHOF, talking to them about taking just one wall, rather than a whole room, for satellite exhibits, using just one television monitor.
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