The Washington University Libraries have recently acquired the Lewis A. Levey Family Collection on Sports and Culture. This vast archive of event programs, photographs, artwork, books, and artifacts of all types reflects Lewis Levey’s life of collecting sports memorabilia. Levey’s 75 years of collecting focuses on the historical and cultural impact of sports throughout the country with a particular emphasis on the St. Louis region. Encompassing materials spanning from the 1940s to the present, the collection will serve as a resource for historians, researchers, and students and will facilitate scholarly inquiry into the sociology, history, and cultural influences of American sports and fandom.
The collection was donated by Levey (MBA ’67) and his wife, Leslee (AB ’67), of St. Louis. Lewis and Leslee met while students at WashU and have been engaged with the University since that time. Over many years, the couple has generously supported Olin Business School among other university programs. Along with the Levey Family Collection, the couple has also pledged to create an endowment that will fund exhibits and events, future acquisitions, and ongoing preservation and digitization efforts. It will also support a dedicated curator for the collection.
A long-time real estate developer and investor, Levey enjoyed a successful business career as a Founder and Managing Partner of Paragon Group, Inc., a near-billion-dollar real estate portfolio, comprised of multi-family communities and office buildings in 18 states. Paragon Group became a publicly traded REIT and was consistently recognized as a national industry leader for its innovative and superior-performing real estate investments. Levey managed and directed Paragon Group’s portfolio and operations until the firm merged with Camden Property Trust in 1994, after which he served as lead independent director until 2019.
In the late 1990s, former WashU Chancellor William Danforth recruited Levey and his Olin School classmate and friend, John Dubinsky (AB ’65, MBA ’67), to help formulate and lead the Cortex initiative. Today, the Cortex Innovation Community, a collaboration that includes WashU, BJC, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, has become an internationally recognized hub of innovation and entrepreneurship focused on accelerating equitable and inclusive economic growth in the St. Louis region. Cortex is credited with more than $2 billion in regional economic impact.
In recognition of his business success and impact on the St. Louis community, Levey was honored with the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009.
A Lifelong Passion
A voracious sports fan at an early age, Levey began collecting by saving ticket stubs, programs, and scorecards he obtained while attending baseball and basketball games. While in elementary school, Levey began sending letters to teams and players requesting autographs, photos, and other team information. Those efforts yielded many personally addressed and signed notes from players, including St. Louis Cardinals greats Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and Enos Slaughter. These early interactions became the spark igniting a lifelong passion.
Levey’s interests and passions are reflected in the impressive and diverse assemblage of major and minor league memorabilia, books and annuals, and artifacts from cities and small towns across the United States and Latin America. He has visited Cuba on multiple occasions seeking information and artifacts relating to Cuban baseball history. An avid athlete himself, Levey was even a participant in a “Team USA” baseball team that toured Cuba competing against adult Cuban teams.
Although the collection has a broad geographic range, much of it revolves around Levey’s hometown of St. Louis. His keen interest and knowledge of sports culture, combined with his academic and historical bent, served him well in identifying and acquiring historical and culturally significant memorabilia often passed over by mainstream collectors. The collection contains something for virtually every type of sports fan, from autographs and fine artwork to stadium giveaways and ticket stubs. It includes home-made recordings of radio broadcasts and first edition books, chronicling the history of baseball.
Tim Huskey, the newly named Lewis A. Levey Family Curator for the collection, has been working with archivist Erin Purdy, to analyze and record Levey’s oral history of the collection. He commented that “the collection reflects and reframes culture and society through the lens of sports. Lewis’ collection contains enormous amounts of ephemera that record sporting events of all types across the St. Louis region, dating back some seven decades. Collectively, they provide a picture of society at the moment, but also what it is to be a fan who deeply appreciates the history of sports.” Huskey’s personal favorites include items Levey has collected from high-profile sporting events, including Final Fours, Super Bowls, and the MLB All-Star Game.
The treasure trove of athletic history found in the Levey Family Collection will have a permanent home at Washington University—a decision that Levey embraced after carefully considering several other universities, libraries, and museums.
“I wanted the collection to be in a “home” that had the resources, staff, and commitment to maintain and even expand the collection. I was, of course, motivated by my affinity and affection for WashU. Academically, I learned more at WashU than I learned anywhere else,” said Levey. He further commented, “WashU understands the historical, social, and cultural implications of the collection, as will those who come to view and learn from it.”
Chancellor Andrew D. Martin believes the collection will enable new forms of learning and discovery and create a space for community. “Lewis and Leslee Levey have long been champions of Washington University and of teaching and learning that illuminates connection and transforms lives. The gift of their collection is particularly meaningful because it taps into the power of sports culture to build bridges between Washington University and the broader St. Louis community. I’m eager for visitors to enjoy the collection, as I have, and I’ll be proud to host a reception and exhibition of the Levey Family Collection when it is ready,” Martin said.
All photos by Ian Lanius, exhibitions graphic designer at the University Libraries.