Thursday, February 2, 2012

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Has Local To National Merit - Stadium Determined Eligible For State & National Register of Historic Places

Extra! Extra! Op-Ed by Michael Perlman, featured in the Queens Ledger on Feb 2, 2012. Please share & consider commenting here: Queens Ledger newspaper link

Golden potential at America's first concrete tennis stadium, Photo by Michael Perlman

 The legendary Forest Hills Tennis Stadium was almost sold for development, but now it is steps closer to being preserved.

On January 5, 2012, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium and Clubhouse, and other historic features of the West Side Tennis Club property has been declared "NR-Eligible," or eligible for inclusion on the State & National Register of Historic Places by State Historic Preservation Office Specialist Daniel McEneny.

As Chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, I nominated the property in summer 2011 on behalf of our membership, and a vast coalition of preservation, civic, tennis and music enthusiasts from the local to national level.

If the WSTC signs off on this opportunity, the office can move forward, and the property can be placed on the State & National Register of Historic Places. Besides commemoration, the Register would open the door to economic incentives for restoration and historically sensitive upgrades.

In addition, the New York Landmarks Conservancy non-profit, which is accredited as one of the largest preservation grant awardees, has a number of funding programs that a property may be eligible for upon placement on the Register. This would benefit the WSTC and a potential preservation-friendly partner.

Backtracking, a string of promising events has transpired since the stadium's endangerment in summer 2010. In October 2010, a plan to sell the stadium parcel to developer Cord Meyer to build “Anytown USA” condos was rejected by more than half of the voting-eligible WSTC members, and President Kenneth Parker expressed his disappointment.

On January 1, 2012, President Roland Meier took the seat of Kenneth Parker. President Meier has not made his views publicly known, but is believed to be pro-preservation. A case in point was when Cord Meyer Development proposed condos, and Roland Meier resigned in protest from his seat as Tennis Committee Chair in August 2010.

In November 2011, it was announced that the Stadium Arts Alliance non-profit envisions partnering with the WSTC, and restoring and revitalizing the stadium for tennis matches, periodic musical acts, and ice hockey and skating in the winter, to make the venue usable year-round for the WSTC and greater community.

The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium witnessed a series of firsts architecturally, culturally, and socially. It was the first concrete stadium in the U.S., and was designed by a foremost architect of public buildings, Kenneth Murchison.

It was also the first home of the US Open, and a plethora of tennis legends including Don Budge, Bill Tilden, Helen Jacobs, Tony Trabert, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, and Althea Gibson, played there. Forest Hills Music Festivals featured the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Barbra Streisand. The stadium put Forest Hills on the map.

Creative reuse would signify an educational, cultural and economic boost community-wide. It would improve our quality of life, preserve a historic site, increase business in Forest Hills, and create jobs at and near the stadium, while improving finances for the club in the long term. However, selling the stadium for the highest offer would be a one-time cash generator for WSTC.

No development in place of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium can ever equal or exceed its value. Fading photos of the stadium which grace the walls of the clubhouse could never measure up to preserving the Real McCoy. How many times have we seen tribute plaques in place of historic sites which could have still been standing proudly? Do we wish to be remembered as a society that revitalized a world icon, or one that operated under a throwaway culture mentality, which destroyed it along the lines of the late great Pennsylvania Station?

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