When going to a museum, one would generally expect to find the word “museum” somewhere on the premises, usually right out front, as part of the institution’s name. Typically, said museum is a stand-alone building housing its collection of art or objects. But what looks to be a new trend, at least in Boston, is the museum-within-a venue . . . without the word “museum.”
Display cases in point include the Royal Rooters Club in Fenway Park and, at the Boch Center, the Music Hall in the Wang Theatre.
Located in a room above Fenway’s Big Concourse, the Royal Rooters Club — named after the unofficial early-20th-century Boston fan club whose members would meet in bars and talk baseball — features walls with large photos of players and timelines of Red Sox history, along with cases filled with baseballs (one has a team-signed ball from every World Series, starting with 1920), bats (one of Babe Ruth’s is there), gloves (a 1903 mitt belonged to Lou Criger, Cy Young’s personal catcher), and other memorabilia.
Located to one side of the Wang Theatre’s lower lobby, the Music Hall — which was the name of the building before it became the Wang — is a celebration of music, with a concentration on Americana and roots, and a focus on artists who have performed there. Similarly, this is a room filled with large photos of performers — there’s Van Morrison, there’s Bruce Springsteen, there’s an old one of Bob Dylan with Al Kooper — concert posters, and display cases chockablock with pieces both historical and goofy (one has a Beatles lunchbox, a series of magazines with Ringo on the cover, and a cardboard and plastic package that claims to contain “BEATLES’ HAIR!”).
The Music Hall, which has been open to the public only during a couple of recent concert events is, according to Boch Center President and CEO Josiah A. Spaulding, a work in progress.
“I started my career as a singer-songwriter,” said Spaulding. “I decided, along with Mark Weld, the chairman of our board, who also is a guitar player, that we should begin a folk and Americana music series. We did that last April, with the Weight Band, which was a tribute to The Band.”
The success of that show led to thoughts of what evolved into the Music Hall.
“We didn’t want to limit ourselves to just roots or just Americana or just folk,” said Spaulding. “We wanted to reach the broader spectrum of what’s out there. So we called some of our friends in the business.”
One of them was music collector David Bieber, whose immense David Bieber Archives — rows and shelves of albums, singles, photos, magazines, reel-to-reel tapes, turntables, collectible dolls, as well as bins and boxes filled with as-yet unsorted music-related treasures — makes its home in a sprawling Norwood storage facility.
“I knew Joe from my [promotions director] days at [rock radio station] ’BCN,” said Bieber. “He came out to the archive, and he grasped the idea of the contents and the opportunities that the various items in the boxes would be able to fulfill what he was thinking about.”
What Spaulding was thinking about was kicking off the Music Hall with a sort of trial run in conjunction with recent concerts by Joan Baez and Ringo Starr. One idea was to load up that display case with Ringo-centric Beatles items.
“Everything in the cases at the Wang either came from the archive or from home,” said Bieber. “The great joy is that I could fill a hundred cases, so it became an editing job. There are several preferential items that I like to live with at home, then that becomes the launching pad for finding more. It’s a challenge.”
A similar challenge goes on at Fenway Park, where Red Sox curator Sarah Coffin maintains order in the Royal Rooters Club as well as in myriad display cases all over the ballpark. One celebrates the career of Tony Conigliaro. (There’s a copy of his 45-rpm recording, “Little Red Scooter.”) Another looks at the history of sports other than baseball that have taken place in Fenway, another is crammed with Red Sox bobblehead dolls.
“In 2012, as we were preparing for the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, one of the things we discussed was the great Red Sox history, and how to tell that story without one set museum space,” said Coffin.
“The concept we came up with was presenting Fenway Park as a living, breathing entity,” she added, referring to the spread-out cases and displays. “But, along with the separate exhibits, we wanted to have a more isolated exhibit space. And there are items in the Royal Rooters Club that, due to light exposure or climate changes or security risks, can’t be in the ballpark. We needed an indoor space for that.”
Walking through the room, Coffin pointed out a set of World Series watch fobs which, in the early days of baseball, players received rather than rings. She moved on to the mid-1930s blueprints for the Green Monster, and seemed to get a kick out of the 25-cent bleachers ticket from the 1912 Red Sox-New York Giants World Series. “It was found in a wall in a New Hampshire home and was donated to us,” she said.
Most of the exhibits at Fenway change at the beginning of each baseball season. Plans for the Music Hall will likely include rotating the photos and contents of exhibit cases, and the equivalent of pop-up shows that are tied to Wang Theatre performances. The hitch with these museums-within-venues is that, at the present time, visitors can’t just walk in to either of them. Aside from being a season ticket holder with a membership pass, the only way to access the Royal Rooters Club is to go on a Fenway Park tour (tours run daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). It’s the last stop. The Music Hall isn’t yet officially open, but Spaulding hopes it will happen before year’s end.
“We have a really diverse collection here,” said Coffin. “We have a little bit of everything that helps tell Fenway Park’s story.”
“We currently do tours of the theater once in a while,” said Spaulding. “We’d like to work out a situation where the tour would include the Music Hall. We’re also thinking about opening it before performances and during intermissions. That would be a way we could celebrate and remember all the things that have happened here over the years.”
For Fenway Park tour information, go to www.mlb.com/redsox/ballpark/tours.
For Wang Theatre tour information, go to www.bochcenter.org/~/media/groups/new-group-tour-email-v3.html.
Ed Symkus can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.