Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium May Be Restored & WSTC To Celebrate 100 Years in Forest Hills This Summer

West Side Tennis Club Looks Back & Plans Ahead
by Michael Perlman of the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger

The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which is now 90 years old. America's first concrete tennis stadium! Photo by Michael Perlman
Caption: "The National Tennis Club" circa 1973, Published by Harlee George & Curteich Color, Courtesy of Michael Perlman Postcard Collection
The Tudor clubhouse of the West Side Tennis Club from the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Photo by Peter Dutton

The West Side Tennis Club has reached a milestone!

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the stately $25,000 Tudor clubhouse overlooking tennis courts, which was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, the principal architect of the 142-acre Forest Hills Gardens.

The year 2013 also marks the 90th anniversary that a foremost public building architect, Kenneth Murchison, designed the 14,000-seat eagle-adorned Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which was the first concrete tennis stadium in the United States.

The West Side Tennis Club was founded in 1892 on Manhattan’s West Side. After outgrowing their second Manhattan home, the club surveyed over 30 locations for an expansion, and voted to move to Forest Hills Gardens on December 3, 1912. In 1913, land was secured with a $2,000 down payment and a $75,000 mortgage.

Come summer 2013, the West Side Tennis Club will celebrate by staging a series of events for club members and the community at large.

“History always repeats itself” may not be just a cliché, as the club marks new beginnings by eyeing an expansion yet again, while educating new generations about its rich but often overlooked tennis, music, social, and architectural contributions to Queens.

The West Side Tennis Club is exploring the idea of developing some covered tennis courts, squash courts, an ice skating rink, and a fitness facility, but at first, club members and the public can anticipate a summer filled with 100th anniversary celebrations.

The first celebration will be a flag ceremony on April 21 for club members. That will be followed by a series of events, such as summer tournaments, carnivals, free tennis clinics, and music festivals that recall the famed Forest Hills Music Festivals held throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The inaugural New York Open from July 4-7 will consist of a hard court tournament, and will feature citywide amateurs and professionals. The open is being organized by Tennis In New York, a non-profit whose mission is to promote tennis and preserve its history in New York.

“This is why we felt that coordinating this event in Forest Hills would be so appropriate,” said Tennis In New York President and CEO Dale Caldwell.

It may become an annual tradition, evoking memories of a time when the U.S. Open was held at the Forest Hills tennis stadium.

The U.S. Open was founded in Forest Hills in 1968, but was moved to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in 1978 due to its popularity. In Forest Hills, generations witnessed tennis legends such as Tony Trabert, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Don Budge, Bill Tilden, John McEnroe, and Helen Jacobs take the court.

Meanwhile, legendary musicians who performed in the stadium include Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Simon & Garfunkel, and Trini Lopez. Perhaps the most memorable moment was The Beatles landing in a helicopter on the grass courts.

For approximately 15 years, the stadium did not host events and gradually fell into disrepair. In October 2010, a plan to sell the stadium to Cord Meyer Development to demolish it to make way for condos was voted down by club members.

Former President Kenneth Parker expressed his disappointment, hoping it would improve club finances. On January 1, 2012, President Roland Meier took his seat, and now remains hopeful for a future that will capture some of the clubhouse and stadium’s past glory.

Some local business owners and residents see a brighter future. Rena Monogenis, co-owner of the 44-year-old Stoa Jewelry at 71-60 Austin Street praised the idea behind the New York Open and summer events.

“This would restore a spirit to our neighborhood,” she said, reminiscing on her early twenties when she saw Billie Jean King play. “It would be wonderful getting the stadium back into action. When something is built well, it weathers the years and should not go to waste.”

“The events planned for this summer are really great because it would help support the effort to restore and revive the club and its iconic stadium,” said James Voketaitis, who has lived in Forest Hills for 18 years. “I am sure there will be many Queens organizations that will be very interested.”

One such organization is the Queens Economic Development Corporation, where Forest Hills resident Seth Bornstein is the executive director. Upon hearing about the club’s anniversary and vision, he also saw potential for the club and stadium, calling it a great asset to Queens and New York City.

“Their concept is good, and would certainly attract visitors to Queens,” he said. “Bringing people to Forest Hills would help local shops and restaurants along Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue. If the West Side Tennis Club moves on this, the Queens Tourism Council would certainly help promote it.”

In an interview with Meier, he explained his vision and the progress already underway.

“The New York Open will be a first, and we hope it will become a major New York event,” he said. “We have a lot of interest from people who want to play, companies who want to participate, and special guests.”

Meier hopes the 100th anniversary events and the conceived expansion will lead to the stadium’s revitalization.

“We are looking at a gradual restoration,” he said. “I believe we can have quality tennis events, ice hockey in the winter, and a few classy concerts on a small scale which our club can associate with. We picture a mix between classical concerts and modern music.”

Members are contributing and volunteering their time to many projects.

“We are building a playground, and the club is becoming more family-friendly,” Meier said. “If you live in the neighborhood, it’s the best backyard to play in.”

Some people have suggested that the stadium is not structurally sound, but Meier refuted that claim.

“We did testing and the structure is sound,” he said. “We need to seal the stadium to avoid water penetration and need a new sewer system.”

Meier takes pride in the 100-plus new members that joined this past year, which includes many young members and families.

“We have achieved something that we never have before in our club history,” he said. “We were very isolated for many years, but now we are becoming a part of the neighborhood. This is a start to closing our wallflower status.

“We are onto something and can gain momentum to make it into a real club,” Meier added. “I want the West Side Tennis Club to survive for another 100 years and become a destination again.”

Eye on the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, 2010 photo by Pat Lannan
From the grandstands towards the historic field & clubhouse, Photo by Peter Dutton
The eagle overlooking the field has gone astray, but restoration would be a plus. Historic photo courtesy of Michael Perlman & Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Celebrities were a staple at the stadium & club. This is magazine clipping from circa 1954.

1 comment:

  1. Please save this complex. My memories are so vivid and so sweet!! Many days filled with bright sunshine, having fun with friends and meeting the players (Chrissy Evert, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King) and their families...not to mention other celebrities, like the great Anthony Quinn, which added to the sophistication and excitement of such a great time in history. Mike Burns, my friend, was instrumental in making the U.S. Open so fabulous. I do hope you make this a landmark property (if not already done) and preserve this very very special property in NYC. Thanks, Donda Morgan