At the event, several commemorative banners were raised to honor Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly, Jack Kramer and the history of the Davis Cup in Forest Hills.
On display at the Forest Hills Stadium were artifacts from the stadium’s rich history, which the WSTC Foundation hopes to display in a new tennis archive. Funds raised from the party will also benefit disadvantaged children, as well as tennis programs for the physically challenged.
The West Side Tennis Club and Forest Hills Stadium are intertwined with tennis history. The stadium was the first tennis stadium in the country, built in 1923. In 1953, Connolly won a Grand Slam at the stadium, becoming the first woman to do so.
In 1968, the first U.S. Open was held at the venue before moving to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in 1977.
Additionally, during the 1960s, The Beatles joined other legendary artists in performing in a Forest Hills Stadium music festival.
Gordon Smith, executive director and COO of the USTA, deemed WSTC a crucial part of tennis history.
“Other than Wimbledon, maybe, it’s the most significant historic tennis site in the world,” he said, adding that 60 National Championships and 10 Davis Cup Finals were held at the club.
Todd Martin, the new CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, recalled his early days spent at WSTC. He played his last amateur match at WSTC before playing his first professional match in Flushing Meadows.
“I’ll never forget walking into WSTC on my first day,” Martin said. “I was awestruck, not by the stadium or the courts, but by the clubhouse. Walking through and seeing all of these photographs and understanding, truly, what history occurred here.”
Connelly’s daughter, Brenda Bottum, said her mom felt a special connection to Forest Hills. Prior to her death in 1969, Connelly established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation.
Each year, the foundation returns to WSTC and hosts the Little Mo tennis competition for children aged 8 to 12 years old. This year’s participants included children from 18 countries.
Kramer’s son, Bob, looked back on time his family spent at WSTC, from his father’s competitions to his own early entrepreneurship skills by selling water off the court.
“He was a special person to all of you, but our father was truly the finest person in the world,” he said.
Borough President Melinda Katz applauded the foundation and its contributors for providing access to tennis for groups who may not have had the opportunity to experience the sport otherwise.
Throughout the year, the WSTC Foundation hosts a tennis workshop for those in wheelchairs. The foundation also gets involved with five local schools through an in-school programs and a follow up program for local children where they can come and play at the club for a discounted price.
“The Board of Directors and the members of the WSTC decided that they could keep tennis as part of its fiber and give it to the next generation,” Katz said. “The WSTC managed to do that under some really difficult circumstances.”
WSTC Foundation president Roland Meier said the foundation hopes to one day have a tennis museum at the stadium. They also hope to host more matches, such as a Davis Cup event or a warm-up tournament for the U.S. Open.
“Even if none of these dreams materialize, it is my hope that having started a tradition on the WSTC’s 125th anniversary that every year, before the U.S. Open, we watch entertaining matches in our stadium, we honor former tennis greats, we celebrate tennis history and we party at the former mecca of the U.S. Open,” Meier said.