Austin
9:08 am
Tue April 1, 2014

Austin Toy Museum Looks to Open Next Year

A new museum is getting ready to open in Austin, but this one doesn't focus on art or state history. This one is all about toys.

A group of Austin collectors are creating a home to display vintage toys, ranging from the 1900s to the 1980s.

Caleb Zammit is part of the group putting together the museum. He's been collecting toys for years. Right now, his collection of over 200,000 toys is neatly arranged in almost every room of his house.

By day, Zammit is a schoolteacher who specializes in working with autistic students. He loves using toys to help children open up. Zammit is also a sculptor. He analyzes the toys' shapes and studies the materials that brought them to life.

From one of his living room shelves, Zammit pulls out a Stretch Armstrong. Remember those? Back in 1976, when the first muscle man came out, kids would yank on Armstrong's arms and legs until they looked like they were going to snap.

Zammit says the toys got their stretchy effect by being made with corn syrup. "A lot of them, eventually, started to leak,” he says.

The one Zammit pulled out from a Styrofoam box has deflated muscles that sag like old balloons. The toy is still going to the museum, but Zammit hopes to get some reproductions to show kids how Stretch Armstrong once looked.

Showing children what used to be is one reason Zammit is helping create the museum. He wants today's kids to see what kind of toys existed before touchscreens and TVs dominated our lives.

Some 1,300 miles away in San Diego, Elisa Ballard is working to open a toy museum of her own.  Ballard dreams about opening day. But for her, the process hasn't been easy.

“It took us almost a year to get our 501 (c)(3) [nonprofit] status through the IRS,” Ballard says. Another challenge lies in finding the perfect place. Ballard needs something affordable that’s big enough to house the collections.

And once a museum opens its doors, keeping them open is another matter.

Even well-established museums like the Teddy Bear Museum in Florida have closed, citing financial challenges and difficulty in attracting a steady flow of volunteers.

But nothing can deter Ballard in San Diego – or Zammit here in Austin. He says he hopes “to have a toy resource for people and a museum that lasts throughout the ages.”

The Austin Toy Museum is scheduled to open its doors in 2015. Collectors will begin a Kickstarter campaign on April 26 to help get the doors open.

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