Thursday, April 25, 2013

West Side Tennis Club Raises The Flag To 100 Years

100 Years In Forest Hills, WSTC Flag Raising Ceremony, Photo by Suzan Causey
WSTC Members at 100th Anniversary Flag Raising Ceremony, Photo by Michael Perlman

"West Side Tennis Club celebrates 100th Anniversary" by Michael Perlman of the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger:

Generations young and old at the West Side Tennis Club (WSTC) will remember April 21, 2013, as the day they witnessed Forest Hills history in the making.

To welcome a summer filled with events celebrating a century of operation at 1 Tennis Place in Forest Hills Gardens, the club held a Flag Raising Ceremony. With a backdrop of crisp blue skies and trees in bloom, a tennis ball-themed flag reading “100 Years in Forest Hills” was raised, and now waves with pride alongside the American flag.

The West Side Tennis Club, comprised of a diverse membership, a stately Tudor clubhouse from 1913, and the iconic Classically-styled Forest Hills Tennis Stadium from 1923, commemorated its tennis, music, social and cinematic legacy by reminiscing and visualizing a promising future.

Club members assembled over a cocktail reception at the wood-paneled clubhouse overlooking the stadium, and were then guided by a bagpiper through a foyer to an outdoor ceremony. The historic walk featured a timeline of photos capturing the glory of Bill Tilden, Bobby Riggs, and Kenneth Rosewall, as well as Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert.

WSTC bagpiper escorts members through the Clubhouse, Photo by Nicole Zivkovic
Some notable guests were President Helen Griffin of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills, President Robert Schnell of the Men’s Club of Forest Hills, Community House Chair Lily Zivkovic, and Dan Olson, treasurer of the Church-in-the-Gardens. Sinead Whelan, WSTC Chair of Membership and Marketing delivered opening remarks, setting the stage for WSTC President Roland Meier, who referred to his audience as one big family of the West Side, and attributed part of the club’s road to success as the need to work with the greater community.

President Roland Meier, Photo by Michael Perlman
“When I researched 100 years, I did not find a bond between the West Side Tennis Club and Forest Hills,” Meier said. “We were the center of the tennis universe, and now we are trying to reinvent ourselves and become a children and family-friendly club which will revive the stadium and finally become part of the neighborhood.”

In addition to tennis, he envisions ice skating and concerts that respect the club’s ambiance.

Since the U.S. Open moved from the stadium in 1977 to larger accommodations at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and the Forest Hills Music Festival began phasing out after its peak from the 1950s to the 1970s, the club lost some of its prestige and the stadium began decaying under minimal use.

Griffin Fluhr & Alice Beatrice Adams raising the 100th Anniversary Flag, Photo by Michael Perlman

Sinead Whelan with Alice Beatrice Adams & Griffin Fluhr, Photo by Nicole Zivkovic

Following Meier’s remarks, two of the club’s younger members raised the commemorative flag. One was 11-year-old Alice Beatrice Adams of Greenwich, CT, who has played tennis at the club for as far back as she can recall.

“I felt pretty honored,” said Adams, who serves on the club’s junior committee and organizes parties for fellow junior members.

“I was proud,” said 11-year-old Griffin Fluhr of Forest Hills, who served as a ballboy for Children’s Day in Forest Hills Gardens, and is also part of the junior tennis program.

WSTC audience members take part in the festivities, Photo by Nicole Zivkovic
Over lunch, some club members shared their visions for the future. Fourteen-year member Richard Del Nunzio of Forest Hills is chair of the Facilities Committee.

“Development of the juniors is one way of expanding the membership of the club I love,” he said. “We’re spending $45,000 on a world-class playground and we’ve improved our children’s lounge, and now our summer camp has over 150 children and is growing annually. They’re our club’s future.”

He took pride in the role the WSTC has played in his own family.

“I have a son who was part of the juniors, and now earned a full scholarship playing tennis in college,” Del Nunzio said.

He then explained why revitalizing the stadium is most valuable.

“As a result of [music] pirating on the internet, performers are looking for open stadiums, and they have come to realize that live performances are the best source of income,” Del Nunzio said. “By default, we are at the right place at the right time, and are being approached by promoters who want to invest in the stadium’s restoration for concerts.”

The stadium may become the New York Philharmonic’s summer home.

Forest Hills resident Juan Reyes, a 42-year member relayed his heartfelt sentiment. He explained,

“My children were friendly with a group of kids from France, when we invited them to Forest Hills, they were excited to be part of the tennis tradition,” said 42-year member Juan Reyes. “We want to make the younger Americans aware, since they don’t have that same appreciation.”

Viewing a restored stadium as a source of long-term revenue from events, Reyes opposed Cord Meyer Development’s 2010 proposal to build condos in its place.

“Demolition of the stadium would have destroyed the club and the community,” Reyes said. “Some people have no respect for tradition.”

The club also serves as a second home to many of its elder members.

“At age 92, I still play tennis,” said Helen Allen of Forest Hills. “One thing I admire about President Roland Meier is how he’s opening membership to everyone. We are holding occasions to invite people to see the club and play tennis for the afternoon, and that helps create a diverse membership.”

The West Side Tennis Club informed club members about a series of 100th anniversary events planned for the spring and summer. The public events schedule features a Meet The Pro Staff and Fundraiser Round Robin on May 11; Level 1 Junior Sectional Tournaments from June 24–28; a Century Celebration and Tennis Carnival on June 30; the New York Open Tournament from July 4–7; the USTA Women’s National Championships from July 14–20; a 100-Year Celebration Extravaganza on August 18; and USTA Men’s National 40, 55, 60 Grass Court Championships from September 16–29.

WSTC Clubhouse exhibits Tudor charm, Photo by Joe Dutton
Linna Hunt, a 41-year member, can’t imagine the West Side Tennis Club minus its stadium, and last weekend’s ceremony reinforced its value.

“I’m pleased so many club members and the business community are looking forward to our historic stadium coming to life again,” she said. “I always love sitting on the clubhouse’s terrace, looking out into the sunset at our horseshoe stadium.”

Eagles & terra-cotta shields adorn the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium facade, Photo by Michael Perlman
Center court with the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Photo by Pat Lannan

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Historic Forest Hills Inn Lobby At Risk For A Nightclub?

Forest Hills Inn is an anchor of Station Square, Photo by Michael Perlman
The Forest Hills Inn's historic lobby is at risk of demolition for a nightclub, to the disrespect of shareholders, Photo by Michael Perlman

Controversy Brewing At The Forest Hills Inn
by Michael Perlman, Forest Hills Times

An unofficial landmark in the heart of Forest Hills is at risk of being forever altered.

May 1, 2013, will mark 101 years since the Forest Hills Inn opened its doors and greeted guests and passersby at the gate of Forest Hills Gardens. In our country’s earliest planned garden community, the Forest Hills Inn towers, with its Tudor and Arts & Crafts charm over Station Square, is analogous to how the Empire State Building towers triumphantly over Manhattan.

Both symbols echo the first of their kind in regard to their lofty height and architecture, and cast countless social associations for generations. In May 2012, residents and visitors attended a 100th anniversary ceremony in the Forest Hills Inn’s elegantly appointed lobby, which featured historic presentations by the Inn board’s Historic Committee. Nearly a year later, a controversy is brewing.

The Forest Hills Inn’s One Station Square co-op board is at odds with Reiner & Kaiser Associates, the commercial landlord of the Forest Hills Inn and its accompanying Tudor buildings along Station Square.

The board learned that the company has plans to erect a concrete wall in the Forest Hills Inn’s historic lobby between the three centrally-located pillars for the intent of commercial conversion. The proposal would likely downsize the residential lobby by 75 percent

The plans may include the removal of historic woodwork from the wall separating the Inn's lobby and the neighboring Jade Eatery and Lounge at 1 Station Square. Plans are also rumored to involve the demolition of other English wood-paneled walls, wooden doors, a fireplace, ceilings, chandeliers, and sconces.

“This is defacing history,” said one board member. “Once you knock down a historic wall or details, you cannot put it back.”

At a board meeting, members were told that building manager AnnMarie Ferrelli was taken by surprise on March 20 when she saw a construction crew taking measurements for the installation of a concrete wall, blueprints in hand. First she asked who sent them and was told it was a sponsor. Then they presented a printed email with requests from Ray Kaiser of Reiner & Kaiser.

The board is set to fight the proposal.

“We already contacted the Department of Buildings to call attention to this matter,” said a representative of the One Station Square board. “As far as we can tell, it would be illegal to convert a portion of our lobby into a commercial space. It’s not zoned for anything other than residential use.”

“We learned that Kaiser plans to rent out the Forest Hills Inn’s basement and lobby for a split-level nightclub, so we made an offer for the lobby space to block a nightclub,” said Raymond Taylor, manager of Jade Eatery and Lounge. “Our offer has not been accepted, yet.”

When asked what Jade’s plans would be for the lobby, Taylor responded, “We have not put any energy into plans, since our main focus now is making an investment to stop what would attract the wrong element to the Forest Hills Inn and Station Square.”

“In Jade, we restored many original elements from the Inn’s earlier restaurants, such as the original wooden bar,” said Taylor. “We have done a lot to maintain class, and we’re also working towards the restoration of the abandoned Tea Garden, which our restaurant overlooks.”

The properties within Forest Hills Gardens are subject to “restrictive covenants,” which are upheld by the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, to maintain the aesthetic beauty of period architecture and landscapes. One Station Square, Inc. emphasized prior frustrations with Reiner & Kaiser Associates for not being a team player and, in their opinion, allowing commercial facades along Station Square to decay. The co-op board is continuing to fund fa├žade restoration work through shareholder assessments.

Residents have also had problems with tenants in the past. Bartinis Lounge once occupied the basement, and it became notorious for the fatal beating of a patron in November 2010. Board members recalled wild functions that would last until 4 a.m., compromising Station Square’s quality of life. In spring 2012, the former nightclub’s entryway was padlocked.

“If the co-op can take over the basement and make it into something to benefit the Inn, then we won’t have to worry about Kaiser opening another nightclub,” said one board member.

As of press time, Reiner & Kaiser Associates has not responded to a request for comments.

The Forest Hills Inn was once the center of a classy social life in Forest Hills. When tennis championships and music festivals took place at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, notable figures stayed at the Forest Hills Inn. The Tea Garden featured afternoon teas, string music, plays, and dancing under the stars. The Windsor Room hosted dancing on weekends and dinner music evenings. Much preceded the Inn’s residential conversion in 1967.

“The Forest Hills Inn will always be our jewel in an architectural crown,” said a board member.

Forest Hills Inn lobby at risk of demolition, Photo by Michael Perlman
Forest Hills Inn lobby at risk of demolition, Photo by Michael Perlman
Forest Hills Inn lobby at risk of demolition, Photo by Michael Perlman
Forest Hills Inn lobby at risk of demolition, Photo by Michael Perlman
The Forest Hills Inn at Station Square circa 1915, which would be a few years after the Inn's May 1, 1912 opening, Courtesy of Michael Perlman Postcard Collection

Going forward to a March 2012 view of Station Square, Photo by Michael Perlman
A 1950s super-sized matchcover, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
A 1950s super-sized matchcover, where even the matches depict an artist's rendering of the Forest Hills Inn, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
The charming social spots of the Forest Hills Inn were captured in a 1950s super-sized matchcover, Courtesy of Michael Perlman