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Al Lopez house moves to Ybor City for new life as museum

YBOR CITY — Al Lopez Jr. occasionally drives by his father's old home. The son of local baseball legend Al Lopez has fond memories of the white wood and brick home with pale blue trim.

He grew up there. He played baseball in the front yard with his father, who was always chatty with neighbors.

On Thursday, the son stood in front of the home again, only this time, the house was not at its original location at 1210 E 12th Ave.

The building now stands on the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and 19th Street, where renovations will transform it into the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House.

"Hopefully, it will allow future generations to get a glimpse of what these people went through," the son said.

The Florida Department of Transportation acquired the house as part of the Interstate 4 widening. The Ybor City Museum Society now has ownership.

"It's been really exciting for the past couple of months," said Elizabeth McCoy, curator at the society. "We're really jazzed. It's very cool to see it happening."

Lopez played catcher, debuting in 1928 for the Brooklyn Robins. He was the first native of Tampa to play in the major leagues and eventually became a manager in the 1950s. He led the 1954 Cleveland Indians and the 1959 Chicago White Sox to American League pennants. Lopez was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and died in Tampa in 2005.

Workers began moving Lopez's former home, as well as a second house that will hold a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office museum, at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

They arrived at the new location just after 6 a.m. Thursday.

The move sputtered along because utility workers moved poles, signs and fire hydrants to make space for the homes, measuring 30 and 40 feet wide.

Streets typically measure about 30 feet wide, said Mark Roesch, owner of Above All Structural, the moving company hired to do the job.

The moving began last week. Workers ripped the houses, each weighing between 110 and 120 tons, from their foundations, lifted them with a hydraulic system, and then placed them on a steel structure hoisted atop wheels.

"At that point, we're ready to go," Roesch said.

On Thursday morning, both homes sat above the steel structures in a dirt lot near the Ybor City Museum. Plywood covered the windows.

Workers will set the foundations within the next two weeks, Roesch said.

The Sheriff's Office museum, scheduled to open sometime next year, will display several artifacts, including flashlights, radios and laptops used by deputies through the years. The uniform of a sergeant killed in the line of duty in the 1960s will also be on display, said Maj. Clyde Eisenberg.

Sheriff David Gee "wanted to have our history preserved," Eisenberg said.

The Al Lopez house will showcase memorabilia that has "a really strong connection to Tampa," McCoy said.

More than 80 players from Tampa have made it to the major leagues.

The museum society plans to renovate the home inside and out and hopes to open its doors by the start of the 2014 baseball season, said society president Chantal Hevia.

The society is accepting donations to fill the museum, including baseball cards, jerseys, hats and tickets.

Hevia said the museum will showcase Tampa's "unique connection to baseball," referring to the leagues formed by social clubs in past decades.

"It's just part of our heritage," she said.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at lmorel@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386.

Al Lopez house moves to Ybor City for new life as museum 05/16/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 11:16pm]
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