Forest Hills Stadium Centennial Sparks Cherished Memories 

Visits: 0

An Icon Storied in Tennis & Music History

America’s First Tennis Stadium Stands Proudly

Jim Sheridan holds his 50th anniversary plaque in pride, 2014 photo by Michael Perlman

Readers of last week’s column felt as if they attended the West Side Tennis Club’s annual “Heritage Day” celebration on August 26, where WSTC members, guests, and tennis notables were ready to rejoice the centennial of America’s first tennis stadium. Beyond Forest Hills Stadium’s eagle-adorned facade bearing WSTC crests and through the grand arched colonnade is “center court” and a stage, which harbor firsts in tennis, music, architectural, and cultural history since 1923. Now it is up to the people, who have a treasure trove of memories, to be Stadium stewards, keeping it alive for the next 100 years. 

WSTC members and non-members shared memories, granting a continuous soul to the architecturally soulful Stadium. These are seven unique stories. 

Forest Hills resident Beatrice Hunt, a member since 1971, serves as co-chair of the WSTC Archives. She recalls her days as a volunteer in the 1970s, when many members volunteered on committees to help the USTA run the US Open. Hunt explained, “These were coveted positions, and many adults took vacations from work to support the Open. Volunteers obtained badges to enter the grounds anytime, and watched matches when not scheduled to work. When the Stadium sold out, I would climb the steps to the top-level promenade and lean on the fence, interspersed with 11 eagles to watch the matches.”

Freddie, Paul, Tom Brun of The Indoor Tennis Court at the Centennial

As a junior member, Hunt worked as a “Talbert Girl,” when Bill Talbert was Tournament Director. She reminisced, “We set up information tables and checked admission at the doors of the US Open Club under the south side of the Stadium. This was an area enclosed by a tarp with air conditioning, where US Open attendees paid a membership of about $100 in order to purchase food and dine for the two weeks of the tournament. We were given complimentary tennis clothes by Lacoste.”

As for the final few years of the Open in Forest Hills, she obtained a paid job for the WSTC Professional, Tom Wright, in the Pro Shop under the Stadium. His inventory included tennis clothes, racquets, shoes, and other tennis items. Hunt recalled, “Once someone knocked, he opened the door, and said ‘I’ll let you in, if you sing us a song.’ This was during the night of matches where the temperature dropped, and Andy Williams walked to my counter to purchase sweatshirts for himself and his guest. Another time, a customer paid, and I asked him if he had a few cents change to complete the transaction. He mumbled and pulled it out. Later my co-workers were flabbergasted that I unknowingly asked Alan King, a regular at the Open and RFK Tournaments, for change.”

Forest Hills Stadium was spared from demolition from 2010 to 2013, and a new era of diverse music was born, beginning with Mumford & Sons. August 28, 2013 marked the 49th anniversary of The Beatles landing by helicopter on the grass court. “Many of us are still hoping to bring major tennis back to the Stadium for a tennis revival,” said Hunt. Tennis in the Stadium included an exhibition with the Bryan Brothers in 2014, The World Team Tennis NY Empire and National Final in 2016, and the Davis Cup (South Africa vs. Venezuela) in 2022.

Jim Sheridan around age 12 & his father Owen Sheridan

Architect Linna Hunt of Connecticut joined the WSTC circa 1972, and is grateful for close friends, as well as the pros, dining, and playing on har-tru, grass, and clay courts most. She reminisced, “Late on the last day of a U.S. Open, I was in the locker room with another member. Billie Jean King came through to walk out the back door to the Stadium parking lot. Another lady yelled ‘Way to go!’ and Billie Jean yelled ‘You have to really want it!’ I thought that was a great response, since she just won the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.” 

Additionally, during a Robert F. Kennedy Pro-Celebrity Tournament, Ethel Kennedy had a locker near Hunt’s. She recalled, “No one else was in the lockers, but she and I, and a dozen young children, including Carolyn Kennedy, who had a gorgeous flowery longish skirt. Ethel and I struck up a conversation for quite some time. I was in college, and I remember her as lovely, kind, and funny.” She did not spot a nanny and felt it was amazing how many children she was responsible for.  

Jim Sheridan began working at 14 at Forest Hills Stadium in 1964. His first job entailed keeping the Stadium trash-free due to the Forest Hills Music Festival. His father, Owen, was a longtime groundskeeper, who served the WSTC from the 1930s until 1978. He informed him that it was his summer vacation. “I continued to work during high school, mowing 23 grass courts after school daily. I worked full-time during summers, maintaining Club grounds. I worked summers during college, and became Director of Grounds in 1980,” he said.

Uniquely, he had an opportunity to work all Forest Hills tournaments and music festivals. “My experiences range from trying to keep the grass courts playable to standing next to Roger Daltrey, dancing in preparation of taking the stage for The Who concert. From having a drink with Janis Joplin around the table in the grounds shack, to making an emergency repair on the Stadium court before John McEnroe was scheduled to play. From waiting for Sly Stone waiting for the vibe before he would perform, to having a player suggest that I not fix a spot on the grass because he knew where the bad bounces were. From watching different players handle various court surfaces and addressing their concerns, to my decision to leave one net down on the Club’s 43 courts on a slow day for extra maintenance and finding a player on that particular court. He told me he was practicing his serve, and the net got in the way.”

Since 2000, Sheridan serves as a consultant for the WSTC regarding grounds, courts, and operations. He was made an Honorary Member in recognition of his longtime service. “It is a gift for which I have much gratitude. It has been an honor to be associated with a place I call home,” he said.  

Robert Hof (born 1944) and his wife Susanna Hof reside and were raised in Forest Hills Gardens, and even their families each resided in Forest Hills for six generations. Today they have three children and five grandchildren. He feels fortunate to have an older brother, Henry Hof 3rd, who headed and coached the WSTC ball boys in the 1950s.

His tenure as a ballboy extended circa 1957 to 1960. He explained, “This reflected my ball boy saturation in the USLTA National Championships, as well as Jack Kramer’s Tournament of Champions; all celebrated professionals. The takeaway enriching texture included ball-boying multiple times for greats including Vic Seixas (now 100), Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Althea Gibson, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Segura, Pancho Gonzales, Ashley Cooper, and Roy Emerson.”  

Graciela Bruzzone, fourth from left, Photo by Michael Perlman

“I have so many incredible memories and feel so fortunate to have spent my formative years at such an amazing establishment,” said Germantown, Tennessee resident Dr. Ashley Lewis Park. His father, Dr. Lewis Charles Park and mother Vera Park were tennis enthusiasts. In the late 1960s, his family became members.

He shared vivid memories. “I recall being a young boy at Forest Hills Stadium, watching Arthur Ashe win the first ‘Open’ US Open in 1968, beating Tom Okker. As a junior member, great strides were made in establishing wonderful summer tennis programs. I was fortunate to have been taught the game by the Head Pro of the WSTC, Warren Woodcock, who played on the Professional Tour in the 1950s. He coached many greats including Vitas Gerulaitis, who rose to number 3 in the world. Vitas and his sister Ruta and parents were members of the WSTC and became close friends of our family.”

During the US Open, Junior members were encouraged to be ball boys. “As a young teen who loved the game, it was an opportunity to be up close to ‘the best of the best in the tennis world.’ It was a great era of American tennis, with Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, Brian Gottfried, Marty Riessen, Charlie Pasarell, Cliff Richey, Clark Graebner, Dick Stockton, Bob Lutz, Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, and the emergence of Chris Evert.”

Dr. Ashley Lewis Parks parents Dr. Lewis Charles Park Vera Park

At 14, he shared the same ball boy cage with John McEnroe. “He was so good that at age 16, he qualified for the Men’s US Open Doubles draw with Brian Gottfried’s younger brother, Larry. There was a Celebrity Tournament preceding the beginning of the US Open, which brought in prominence in all walks of life. A regular was Ted Kennedy, whose locker was close to mine and afforded a chance to exchange conversation with American Royalty. I remember Muhammad Ali and his entourage, Jim Brown, the great American running back for Cleveland, who had thighs the size of tree trunks.”

Dr. Ashley Park’s father played a medical role to players and fans during the Open, as his brother Derek Park was Chief of Operations for the US Open. “These early experiences had a lifelong impact, including lifelong friendships, playing 3 years of Collegiate Tennis, and for the better part of 15 years serving as the on-site Sports Medicine Physician for the ATP / WTA Memphis Indoor Tournament, a great indoor venue on the Professional Tour,” he recalled.   

Thomas E. Brun owns The Indoor Tennis Court in East Providence, Rhode Island, erected in 1914. This is where Bill Tilden practiced his backhand in 1919-1920, and it is believed to be the oldest indoor tennis court nationwide that houses one tennis court. Analogous to Forest Hills Stadium, Tilden’s popularity inspired the WSTC to develop the first permanent tennis stadium countrywide, and he won the first US Nationals on site.    

Dr. Ashley Lewis Park brother Derek Park served as Chief of Operations for US Open in Operations Office

Brun is a Tennis Collectors of America member who felt Heritage Day was his once in a lifetime opportunity. He said, “It was amazing to stand where history was made.” He recalled watching Ken Rosewall on TV, playing at the Stadium, as Ken was his idol. “My best tennis stroke is the sliced backhand. I never took a full tennis lesson, so I know the stroke is due to watching Ken play.”  

He reminisced, “After the Forest Hills matches between Ken Rosewall and Jimmy Connors, I would often cheer for Jimmy’s opponents. This was due to the severity of the scores. I think they called it the battle of the ages. Forest Hills was the preferred major for TV, as you could see the tennis balls best during play.” 

Bud Collins Tennis Library Opening on Heritage Day, 2021, Bea Hunt 3rd from left, followed by Anita Ruthling Klaussen, wife of the late Bud Collins

Graciela Bruzzone resided in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by relocating to Westchester. Now that she is back and most friends are WSTC members, she may join. As an Argentinian, she considers the Stadium and Club as very significant to all. “The last US Open played here was won by Guillermo Vilas, our first international tennis champion, and arguably one the best 20th century players.”

Bruzzone feels that every moment from the centennial festivities adds up to an evening to be remembered. “I thoroughly enjoyed the speakers honoring many unforgettable tennis heroes like Lt. Joseph Hunt, Althea Gibson and John Newcombe himself, reminiscing from Australia,” she said. 

Archives memories committee at WSTC Linna Hunt Nancy Crabill Ray Fitzmartin Jack Leibler Jim Sheridan 2016, photo by Michael Perlman scaled
Archives memories committee at WSTC, Linna Hunt, Nancy Crabill, Ray Fitzmartin, Jack Leibler, Jim Sheridan, 2016 photo by Michael Perlman

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email