The San Diego Hall of Champions is one of fifteen museums and cultural centers to be found in San Diego’s Balboa Park and is home to the “Breitbard Hall of Fame.” It was set up to recognize, stellar athletic performance achieved in the San Diego region—and—by natives of San Diego who have established athletic reputations elsewhere. Bob Breitbard, a native San Diegan, was a classmate of Boston Red Sox great and Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams and, as a successful business entrepreneur, he established the Breitbard Athletic Foundation in 1946, followed by the Hall of Champions in 1953.
The building has three levels. The lower level series of exhibits highlights the strengths and weaknesses of this Hall of Champions. There are five collections of materials: fencing, fishing, softball, assorted surfing memorabilia, and the La Jolla Cave Swim Club. While each collection is of some interest, the accompanying captions are of limited value and, outside of their geographical connection to Southern California, no thematic links are explored.
The fencing display mentions a female fencer, Ella M. Hattan, otherwise known as “Jaguarina,” whose pre-1900 theatrical displays, equal parts female celebrity and accomplished swordswoman, was popular as a type of music hall entertainment. It would have been rewarding for the Hall of Champions to have explored her career further.
The softball section is devoted to the San Diego Silver Hawks who were the senior slow pitch World Series Champions in 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, and from 1996–2001. No additional printed material, or illustrations, is present to “flesh out” this exhibit.
The fishing section subtitled the “Bass Fishing Hall of Fame,” does no more than provide photographed plaques of nine men inducted into the San Diego Council of Bass Clubs from 1994 to 2008.
With the Hall of Champions being but a Lilliputian hop, step, and jump from the waters of San Diego Bay and the Pacific, an observer should look forward to examining an exhibit entitled, “Origins of Surfing in San Diego.” Sadly, however, the section is poorly [End Page 322] illuminated, and the wall graphics are cluttered with an excess of information. A line of vertical boards fails to reflect the fascinating evolution of surfing design and technology. This disappointing exhibit looks more like an odd collection of coat racks!
That being said, in this same lower level landscape, the San Diego Hall of Champions showcases the La Jolla Swim Club as it energetically and thoughtfully charts, and analyzes, the life of the extraordinary athlete, and open sea swimmer, Florence Chadwick. Born in San Diego on November 9, 1918, the two feats that established her legend were her 1950 record crossing of the English Channel in 13 hours, 20 minutes, and, in 1952, becoming the first woman to complete the twenty-six-mile Catalina Channel between San Diego and Catalina Island. The exhibit explores Chadwick’s film connection with Esther Williams—they starred in Bathing Beauty (1944)—and poignantly describes her greatest leap of faith, which was to tackle nineteen sea miles from Ireland to Scotland. The fifty-degree weather defeated her. She died in San Diego at the age seventy-six. A nice bonus for this exhibit curator would have been additions placing Chadwick in context. A mention of Gertrude Ederle and her 1926 record-breaking swim across the English Channel or, to use a more contemporary example, American Diana Nyad’s 1979 swim from Bimini, in the Bahamas, to Florida would have been a valuable addition.
The ground floor welcomes the visitor with a massive sculpture of Rocky Balboa (created for the movie) done by A. Thomas Schomberg in 1980. There is absolutely no reason for this position and placement. A Philadelphia landscape would seem...