Saving a True Tennis ‘Landmark’
More than 70,000 people call the Forest Hills area of Queens, N.Y., their home. But mention the words “Forest Hills” to many, many millions around the world, and they still think of it as the storied home for tennis in the U.S.
The private West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills was founded in 1892 and was the home to the U.S. Championships (later renamed the US Open) from 1915 to 1977, when it moved 4 miles away to Flushing Meadows. In 1923, as the event’s popularity grew, a 14,000-seat tennis stadium was built at the club. It was the first concrete stadium of its type in the country, unique for its time and representing a new era in stadium design.
Nearly every great tennis player of the last century played on stadium court at Forest Hills. It was the place where racial barriers in tennis first started to come down. It helped lay the groundwork for what tennis is today, the fastest growing traditional sport in America. But the stadium was more than just tennis. There were concerts there, too: the Beatles, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and many more.
A lot of tennis and cultural history passed through the gates at the Forest Hills tennis stadium. Yet the stadium that has been a landmark for our sport is, in fact, not a “landmark” — it does not have “landmark” status, so if members of the West Side Tennis Club ever decide to sell the property, they can.
This past summer that became an issue, when a developer wanted the site, now neglected and in disrepair, to build luxury condos, and the West Side Tennis Club hoped selling the property for $9 million would shore up their shaky financial situation. Thankfully, in early October, the 300 voting club members shot down the sale by a narrow margin. It was a hot topic, both inside and outside of that exclusive club, and some are hoping to continue to push to sell the property.
To prevent this, we need to make the Forest Hills stadium an official landmark. Some involved in the preservation process want to possibly revitalize the stadium as a concert venue and community center — and a place in which tennis again can be played.
But the preservation effort needs our help and support. We need to write to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission urging that this irreplaceable piece of tennis history and cultural history be given landmark status.
Yes, there are details that would need to be worked out — such as how much it would cost to maintain the old stadium and where that money would come from. But let’s not let a small group of private club members ever again determine what is important and worth saving in the tennis world, and let’s never again risk the possible destruction of something that means so much to all of us in this business. The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium is a landmark, and we need to make sure it has that official status.
To find out more, and to find email addresses of members of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, visit regoforestpreservation.blogspot.com/2010/07/save-forest-hills-tennis-stadium.html.
The ball is in our court now to safeguard this home of U.S. tennis.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.