Hurting Ohio historical society sells off old cars

CLEVELAND (AP) – A cash-strapped Ohio historical society is angering some auto buffs by selling off antique cars to balance its budget.

Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historical Society has put up for sale 19 vehicles and one engine from the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

The cars include a 1956 Gullwing Mercedes-Benz, a 1930 Belanger Indianapolis Racer and a 1930 Bugatti phaeton touring car that might be the only one of its type in existence. The Mercedes alone could bring in $450,000.

The sale, which also includes some furniture and pottery, is the latest attempt to eliminate the society’s $5 million debt. A few months ago about 20 other cars were put up for sale.

The society’s finances are so bad that the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission won’t provide the society any more money for renovation without a financially healthy co-signer.

Western Reserve officials say the sales of the cars are designed to restore financial stability to preserve the rest of the collection.

But supporters of the Crawford museum say selling off the gems of its collection will cripple the museum.

“They are basically dismantling the Crawford Auto Aviation museum,” said David Sunderhaft, a society board member who resigned in May. “What we have in Cleveland, before the sales that have occurred in the last years, is one of the top auto aviation museums in the country.”

Sunderhaft and others say that besides hurting the collection, the sales may keep others from donating rare cars or planes in the future.

The society has struggled with debt for years, and has sold off other holdings in the past, including the only surviving “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” car of novel and movie fame.

Gary Adams, board chairman since 2007, said the decision was made last October to pay off the society’s debt by January.

“Every part of the society, all the collections are being looked at,” he said.

The executive director of the Ohio Historical Society said museums shouldn’t resort to sell-offs in economic downtimes.

“We have to protect the collections first. That’s why we were founded,” said Bill Laidlaw. “We would never sell anything to cover basic operating costs. Never have, never will. If you lose it, it’s gone forever.”

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Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com

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