There’s a story behind sneakers and James Moore wants to tell it.
The 45-year-old Los Angeles County social worker has assembled a one-man traveling show he calls the California Sneaker Museum, which made a one-day stop Saturday at the Ahmanson Senior Citizen Center in Exposition Park.
The exhibit of nearly 200 pairs of sneakers, buttressed with pie charts detailing athletic footwear market shares, chronicles of the early rubber industry as it relates to shoes and vintage advertisements, is an ode to the evolution of sneakers, a tribute to athletics and a pop cultural icon.
"[Kids] spend a lot of money on sneakers,” Moore said. “There’s a history to sneakers, and I want kids and parents to see how this evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry.”
Moore’s collection includes a 1930s pair of narrow, high-top Red Ball basketball sneakers, clunky early 1960s sneakers manufactured by Goodyear and BF Goodrich, and a sleek space-age-looking pair of silver Adidas KobeTwo sneakers.
“It’s gone from an 1800s rubber-and-cloth material Plimsoll to now there’s a specialty shoe for every sport,” said Moore, who confessed to owning about 100 pairs. The display in the basketball court-size exhibit hall was arranged primarily by theme, with sections devoted to corporate America -- Ronald McDonald, Pepsi-Cola and Home Depot -- Converse, the NBA, skateboarding and the Harlem Globetrotters.
And basketball superstars Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal -- complete with life-size cutouts and framed jerseys -- were lauded with individualized displays.
Also included were no-name knockoffs, and children’s novelty shoes emblazoned with the Lone Ranger, Tweety Bird and the Peanuts gang, as well as models from the signature lines of sports greats ranging from Arthur Ashe and Serena Williams, to Tony Hawk and Bruce Jenner.
Many of those who came Saturday were Moore’s friends.
Latricia Jones attended with her daughters, Makeda and Zion Flores, 7 and 5, to support her friend and to take a first look at the collection.
“I hadn’t really thought that much about sneakers,” Jones said. “They’re a necessity of life, but I had no idea they were mostly made in Asian countries or what they’re made of. This is very fascinating.”
Moore began collecting in 2000 after starting a sneaker-detailing business he calls Smooth Black Enterprises.
“It snowballed,” Moore said. “I went from restoring sneakers to creating my own museum.”
He said he buys most of the sneakers on the Internet, but he also buys from collectors and scours thrift stores.
His most expensive purchase, so far, is a $200 pair of Nike Air Jordan XVIIs, which came in a foam-lined cherry red carrying case.
In contrast, a pair of Chris Evert Converses, a low-top canvas model with light blue detailing, sat nearby next to the original faded shoe box.