Oct. 27, 2010
LOS ANGELES (AP) – His overstuffed recliner is tucked in a corner, next to a table with a telephone and an address book open to names written in pencil. The television plays a loop of a Western and a baseball game. All that’s missing from the cozy scene is John Wooden himself.
UCLA recreated the home den of the late basketball coach in a new exhibit that opened Wednesday at the Athletics Hall of Fame, located steps away from Pauley Pavilion, where Wooden plied his trade until 1975.
He died in June at 99. In the months that followed, his children, Nan and Jim, sorted through numerous requests for items from their father’s life, including from the Smithsonian.
They shipped some to his alma mater, Purdue, and others to Indiana State, where Wooden coached and earned a master’s in education. His hometown of Martinsville, Ind., also received keepsakes for display.
“But UCLA is where he spent most of his time,” Nan told the university recently. “We really wanted them to have the den. I think they did a great job on it.”
Wooden and his wife, Nell, moved into their condo in suburban Encino in 1972. She decorated the den, where Wooden began each morning at his rolltop desk. He’d go through the mail, write letters and poetry, and autograph the dozens of basketballs and books sent to him by fans.
He snacked on his favorites – chocolate-covered raisins, jelly beans and orange candy slices – while watching Westerns starring John Wayne and baseball games announced by Vin Scully. Other times, he leaned back in the recliner and listened to the Mills Brothers.
The yellow walls of the den are covered with photos, including pictures of Wooden’s 10 teams that won national championships arranged by Nell in a pyramid, similar to his famous “Pyramid of Success.”
Letters from Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan hang near the recliner. A small UCLA basketball hoop is over the closet door.
A bookcase is stuffed with hardcover books – Wooden was a voracious reader – and a few basketballs, including one signifying his 500th victory at UCLA that rests so the lettering on it is upside down, just as it was at his home.
A homemade plate covered in scribbles and dated 1987 hangs from the bookcase. It reads, “Merry Christmas Pa Pa Love Cori,” a long-ago gift from Wooden’s first grandchild.
“I love how everything that anyone ever gave him he kept and it’s really given the same importance as the amazing awards he’s won,” said Emily Greer, curator of the Hall of Fame.
The television in the exhibit plays a 19-minute video of Wooden’s memorial service at Pauley and an interview with him.
“A lot of people talk about how they love his quotes but never got to hear his voice. Now his voice will live forever in his den,” said facilities director Kevin Borg, who helped Greer with the exhibit.
In another corner is a gold upholstered chair where visitors, including some of college basketball’s top coaches, sought Wooden’s counsel. A black-and-white signed photo from Ward “Piggy” Lambert, who coached Wooden at Purdue, hangs nearby.
“I’ve been in there twice and both times I felt like I was taken back in time,” said UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, who was a regular visitor to Wooden’s condo. “I think he would be really pleased at how well it’s done.”
Members of Wooden’s extended family visited the display after a campus celebration of his 100th birthday on Oct. 14. The contents are on loan to the school, with the family able to take back anything they might want.
“They were all just pointing at things and saying, ‘Oh, I gave him that,’ ‘Oh, that’s what I gave him,”‘ Greer said. “They really loved it.”
Greer and Borg made several visits to the condo in preparation for the move. The den was photographed and catalogued, then the contents were moved to UCLA. The designers used the photos as a reference to recreate the den down to the smallest details, including the original curtains for a corner window. The bookshelf was reproduced with the grains going in the same direction as Wooden’s.
“Even the framed pictures on the wall are spaced exactly how we found them,” Greer said.
On the walls outside the glass-enclosed den are the numerous awards and honors presented to Wooden throughout his life. Another case includes his collection of Abraham Lincoln items; he was a big fan of the 16th president.