West Side host stadium party in Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
Aug 29, 2017 | 3262 views | 0 0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The West Side Tennis Club Foundation hosted its Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Party and Sunset Dinner on August 25.

It is part of the club's ongoing celebration of its 125th anniversary, as well as a fundraising effort for the foundation's programs working with the physically challenged and school kids and preserving tennis history, recalling its humble beginnings on Central Park West in 1892 before eventually moving to its current Forest Hills site, which the club purchased for $77,000, in 1913.

At least 200 attended the all-day event, which included lunch with the Kooyong Club from Australia, a tennis exhibition at Forest Hills Stadium, and the final day of the week-long “Little Mo” tournament consisting of 181 children from 18 countries.

The WSTC Foundation also opened its first exhibit on the history of the tennis racquet and how the technology evolved from the 1890s to the 1990s.

In the evening under the stadium’s monumental archways, there was a cocktail party with speeches by tennis notables and elected officials, followed by dinner on the lawn in front of the Grosvenor Atterbury-designed clubhouse. Soul and folk band Mama Juke provided the music.

“I want to thank you for attending the first and what we hope will be an annual Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Party,” said Angela Martin, the first female president of WSTC. “Our iconic stadium has the distinction of being the first in a multitude of tennis-related historic moments.”

WSTC was home to the U.S. Open until it moved to its current location in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in 1978.

“On the occasion of the first televised U.S. Open in 1968, I was a young boy and watched Arthur Ashe,” said USTA executive director Gordon Smith. “I fell in love with the game, and there are millions of kids who are now my age who fell in love with tennis on television here.

“This is the most important historic site in tennis in America,” he added. “And other than Wimbledon, it is the most significant tennis site in the world.”

Honored at the event were late tennis legends Maureen Connolly (“Little Mo”), who was represented by her daughter Brenda Bottum and granddaughter Connolly Bottum, and Jack Kramer, who was represented by his son Bob Kramer.

Connolly was the first woman to win four Grand Slams events in a calendar year in 1953, as well as the youngest ever.

“The year before she passed away, she established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation, with a goal of advancing junior tennis,” said Brenda Bottum. “Now our foundation returns each year to host the ‘Little Mo’ and honor mom’s legacy.”

Kramer was a world number-one player and a significant figure in modern men’s Open-era tennis.

“This is the one place where professionals were allowed to play where amateurs played,” his son said “This is where he won his first singles Grand Slam tournament in 1946 and his last in 1947.”

WSTC member Ben Sturner arranged the talent and pro players for the event, and felt the celebration’s timing was ideal, given that the US Open originated at the club and this year's Open starts this week.

“It’s amazing to think about all the great players, events and championships at WSTC, and the moment you realize that the court you are playing on as a member is the same court that former number one's played on,” he said. “It is wonderful to bring pro tennis to the stadium, and I hope we can each year as a tradition for the next 125 years.”

Sturner presented the first-ever Forest Hills Challenge Trophy to former world top-50 player Michael Russell.

“To be at an inaugural event and win, it is very special,” said Russell. “You don’t play in any venue worldwide that has this much tradition.”

Roland Meier, president of the WSTC Foundation, has great expectations for the club's future.

“In cooperation with the International Tennis Hall of Fame, we may have a tennis museum at the stadium,” he said. “We could again host a Davis Cup event, and if Flushing Meadows is running out of space, Forest Hills could become an atlernate site for special tennis events during the U.S. Open.”

Todd Martin is a former world number-four player and CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.

“I was awestruck by the stadium, courts, and the clubhouse and seeing all the amazing photos and understanding what history occurred here,” he said. “By celebrating the 125th anniversary, you’re honoring an incredible story of excellence. Thank you for always putting history first at the WSTC.”

WSTC is home to not only iconic moments in tennis history, but also music. As for the former, in 1950 Althea Gibson became the first African American to play in Nationals, the precursor to the Open, at the stadium and first to win in 1957.

Billie Jean King became the first player to win a Grand Slam title using a metal racquet in 1967, and Arthur Ashe became the first African American man to win a Grand Slam tournament.

The stadium and grounds also hold the U.S. record for most Grand Slam events at 63, and an international record for the most Davis Cup challenge rounds at 10.

With the creation of the Forest Hills Music Festival in 1960, huge stars graced the stadium, including Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, The Who, Barbara Streisand, and The Beatles.

The stadium underwent a restoration in 2013, and each summer hosts a full schedule of concerts with some of music's biggest names.

At the 125th anniversary event, banners were raised commemorating some of the most notable events that have occurred at the club.

“This is a beginning of the next chapter of our evolution and their involvement in promoting our history and culture,” said Bill Sullivan, who collaborated on the design of the banners. “The banners that we hung are the first of sets to be displayed throughout the stadium, celebrating tennis and music greats who graced Forest Hills over the last century.”
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