Rock Museums: A Tale of Two Cities


Are there enough Chuck Berry guitars and Elvis Presley scarfs to fill two rock ‘n’ roll museums?

The planners behind rival rock showcases proposed for San Francisco and Cleveland say yes.

“There’s lots of room for (several) symphonies, ballets, baseball and tennis teams, so . . . why can’t there be more than one rock ‘n’ roll museum?” asked Norton Rappaport in a telephone interview. He is behind an effort to build a privately financed $20-million museum in San Francisco.

In a separate telephone interview, Christopher Johnson, project director for a more ambitious $35-million-plus Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, agreed. “I can’t control what other cities do, so I can’t spend a lot of time worrying about them,” he said. “I don’t see it as an either/or situation at all.”


The Cleveland project--being developed in association with the New York-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation--has generated the most media attention so far.

The foundation, headed by Atlantic Records chairman Ahmet Ertegun and enjoying widespread recording industry support, was started in 1983 to preserve and enhance the status of rock ‘n’ roll as an art form.

Twenty-five performers have already been elected by the foundation and saluted at its annual induction ceremony in New York. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and the Drifters will be honored at this year’s ceremony Jan. 20.

Cleveland was selected in May, 1986, by the foundation’s board of directors over various other cities--including New York and Chicago--as the site for its museum because of the city’s rock ‘n’ roll history and community enthusiasm. More than 600,000 people signed a petition last year in support of bringing the museum to Cleveland.


The state of Ohio has pledged $4 million to support the 125,000-square-foot facility that would include permanent memorials to the hall of fame inductees as well as ongoing music and video exhibits; displays of costumes, musical instruments, photographs and manuscripts; a multipurpose theater, and a library.

“The interesting thing about rock ‘n’ roll is that there’s a lot of different places that can lay claim (to being its home) because it’s derived from so many different art forms,” Johnson said.

He added that one of Cleveland’s historical claims is that the words rock ‘n’ roll were popularized by Cleveland deejay Alan Freed, who is also credited with promoting the first rock concert--March 21, 1952. Johnson also claimed Cleveland sells more records per capita than any other major city in the country.

The local committee already has already raised $5 million through a variety of public and private grants. Architect I. M. Pei’s plans for the museum will be formally unveiled at the upcoming hall of fame induction ceremony in New York.


“We wanted (the Cleveland facility) to be a world-class, very prestigious museum . . . a real educational and outreach center as opposed to a mere tourist attraction,” said Suzan Evans, executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation.

The men behind the San Francisco museum--Rappaport and partner Ed Earl, both 25--met as students at Stanford University’s graduate business school. They began exploring the idea of a rock museum in early 1985.

“Any enthusiasm that Cleveland generates will help our (efforts),” Rappaport said. “Clearly we’re not a knee-jerk reaction (to Cleveland). We have to be viewed as complementary in terms of public awareness and breaking into a new market--that is, building a market that doesn’t exist.”

As now planned, the estimated 80,000-square-foot facility in San Francisco will contain audio and video displays; a library and research area; the new home of the Bay Area Music Archives (which has been collecting 20,000 records and other rock-related items for 10 years), and rock promoter Bill Graham’s collection of memorabilia from concerts he produced around the world.


Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak and recording executives from the Bay Area have provided the bulk of the initial seed money, Rappaport said.

“I see (the museum) as more than a chronology . . . not just a dry analysis of the past but a dynamic expression of what rock ‘n’ roll has been and how it will impact culture and society in the future,” Earl said. The focus, he added, won’t be limited to bands identified with the “San Francisco sound.”

Rappaport hopes a cooperative exchange between the two museums can be worked out. “To coin a phrase,” he said, “it’s all rock ‘n’ roll.”