Betty White, Hugh Downs attend museum gala

June 12, 2012 (CHICAGO)

In addition to getting a sneak peek at the exhibits, the big draw is familiar faces, including Oak Park native Betty White.

"I think it's important to know where television came from," said White.

Also here is legendary ABC News man Hugh Downs. The 90-year-old Downs, who began his career in Chicago, attended the broadcast museum's first opening event a quarter of a century ago.

"If you're going to be a historian, we finally learn to preserve our past and we do this in many ways," Downs said.

The museum officially opens to the public Wednesday at its new downtown location on State Street. It used to be at the Chicago Cultural Center.

"I think it reminds people the significant role that Chicago played in the early days of television and radio," said Bruce DuMont, founder, Museum of Broadcast Communications.

In the museum, you'll find memorabilia spanning generations including the costumes from Bozo's circus, the former set from Meet the Press, the Nairobi Trio masks from the 1950s and one of the cameras used in the Kennedy-Nixon debate.

Among the interactive attractions is a mock set from ABC 7, which is a sponsor of the museum, where viewers can get in front of the cameras.

There's also a ballroom, where Tuesday night's gala will be held, which the museum hopes to rent out for weddings and other events.

"We needed a place to grow," said DuMont. "This offers us an opportunity to reach our potential. And we think that we will do so and become an important museum in this city for decades to come."

The museum's new location at State and Kinzie was made possible by a $6 million grant two years ago from the state which some have criticized during this time of shrinking budgets.

"We're borrowing money right now," said John Tillman, CEO, Illinois Policy Institute. "It's not a time to be building a museum. We need to do a better job of private fundraising for these projects."

"Historically, tax dollars have created the major museums in the city of Chicago," said DuMont.

Others say the museum has not created as many jobs as was promised.

"I wish them well and I hope they're very successful, and I do plan on going to the museum," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Marengo. "I just don't believe that this, that it could be justified as a jobs creation project."

In addition to the museum's state grant, the museum has raised millions in private donations, though it is still about $6 million short on its mortgage. Tuesday night's gala is expected to raise about a quarter million dollars toward that goal.

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