At the event, three banners were unveiled to mark the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Open Championships at the club in 1968, as well as the first men's and women's winners, Arthur Ashe and Virginia Wade.
“Tennis before 1968 was a child, and tennis since 1968 has been in its adolescence,” said Todd Martin, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Rhode Island and a U.S. Open finalist in 1999. “We have a lot of maturing to do as a sport, but be appreciative of what you have. WSTC is a spectacular historic place, and one that will be part of tennis history forever.”
Ashe passed away at the age of 49 from AIDS due to a blood transfusion.
“I would like to thank all of you for keeping the history alive of this hallowed ground,” said Ashe's younger brother, Johnnie Ashe. “You would be surprised how little today’s players know about this place and the difference it made to tennis.”
“The U.S. Open gave Arthur the opportunity to transition from athlete to ‘citizen of the world,’” added Ashe, who is credited with a taking a second tour of duty in Vietnam so his brother's tennis career could flourish. “Tennis was a vehicle to Arthur.”
Donald Dell was the only undefeated Davis Cup captain in American history and played a major role in founding the Association of Tennis Professionals, which represented Ashe and Jimmy Connors.
“Arthur always believed that he was far, far more than a tennis player, and he cared a great deal about humanitarian problems,” Dell said. “I took him to South Africa in 1973, and in 1974 he went back and visited Nelson Mandela who was in prison at the time. His spirit, his tenacity, and human values continue to live on.”
Great Britain tennis legend Virginia Wade won her first Grand Slam title in 1968 at the WSTC. She won two additional Grand Slam titles in Australia and again at Wimbledon in 1977. Her win at Forest Hills was the first time she ever won prize money.
“We played because the game was amazing, you wanted to win, and you had esteem and glory if you did well,” she said.
“It’s nice that my children can witness history and see legends in person,” said Connecticut resident Ben Sturner. “It was very memorable how Johnnie Ashe discussed the progression of tennis and how Forest Hills laid the groundwork for everything.”
“It was amazing to be in the presence of such history, having the opportunity to listen to Johnnie Ashe’s poignant words, particularly about standing on hallowed ground, and Virginia Wade’s discussion about pay parity for women,” added Forest Hills native Helen Fernandez Murphy.
On April 22, 1892, thirteen members organized the WSTC and rented space on Central Park West between 88th and 89th streets. After moving twice in Manhattan, the club acquired its current home in Forest Hills from the Russell Sage Foundation for $77,000 in 1913.
The Clubhouse was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, and ten years later America’s first tennis stadium, Forest Hills Stadium, was designed by Kenneth Murchison. It not only played a major role in tennis history, but was home to a number of notable musical events as well.
“WSTC’s preservation of charm and character of its architectural structure is second to none,” said Manhattan resident Mindy Sue Sherry. “I was struck by the many iconic photos of decades of tennis history within the hallways.”
Former mayor David Dinkins, a staunch supporter of the sport and a past USTA director, made a surprise appearance at the event.
“I am delighted to be here and happy to see so many friends,” he said. “Tennis is a wonderful sport, and more and more children are playing these days. I say it’s making better people because of it.”
Glenn Gilliam, a former Forest Hills resident who worked on the documentary “Althea” about the life of Althea Gibson, is already looking forward to next year's event.
“I hope the WSTC will raise a banner to the person who broke the color barrier in tennis and golf,” he said, referring to Gibson. “It will coincide perfectly with the unveiling of a commemorative statue on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center during next year’s U.S. Open.
“Being able to watch that commemorative banner unveiled and share stories with some of the members, most of whom are still mostly white, is a positive sign,” he added, noting the neither Ashe or Gibson would have been allowed as members at WSTC when they were winning tournaments. “But there’s still a lot of work to do and barriers to break.”