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.
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.
“When I researched 100 years, I did not find a bond between the West Side Tennis Club and Forest Hills,” he 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.
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.
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.
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.”