On April 22, 1892, 13 initial members organized the West Side Tennis Club with the modest goal of renting ground on Central Park West, between 88th and 89th Streets, for three clay courts. The courts opened on June 11, 1892, and Club membership required a $10 initiation cost, a $10 annual fee, and the ability to play a good game of tennis. By the end of the first season, the Club expanded to 43 members and five courts. The “clubhouse” consisted of a shed with two dressing rooms and cold showers.
After 10 years, the Central Park West property became too commercially valuable for tennis, so the Club moved to 117th Street near Columbia University, which had room for eight courts. Through the largesse of the land’s owner, Mrs. John Drexel of the prominent banking Drexel family, the Club paid a mere $20 per court annually. The Club built a new clubhouse with hot showers. Membership expanded to 110 members.
With the Drexel lease up six years later, West Side rented a location at 238th Street and Broadway, covering two city blocks with room for a dozen grass courts and 15 clay courts. The Club hosted Davis Cup matches with Great Britain in 1911. The matches featured the great Maurice “The California Comet” McLoughlin and crowds numbered in the thousands.
With the success, however, came the realization that the West Side’s location was inadequate to accommodate the crowds. A committee was formed in 1912 to find a permanent location for purchase. The committee scouted 30-plus locations and narrowed the field to properties in the Bronx, Kew Gardens and Forest Hills. On Dec. 3, 1912, the Club voted on the Forest Hills location.
The Club purchased the land, a few blocks from the Long Island Railroad, for a $2,000 downpayment and a $75,000 mortgage. The Tudor-style clubhouse, built the following year, cost approximately $25,000. New York City featured a world-class tennis center by the spring of 1914.
The 1915 transfer of the United States Lawn Tennis Association National Championship (later the U.S. Open) to the West Side Tennis Club from the Newport Casino was a watershed event in the history of tennis. For the next six decades, the Championship would be held at West Side. Along with tennis events, West Side hosted music concerts in its stadium for decades. Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, Diana Ross and the Boston Pops were just some of the musicians that performed at West Side.
By the late 1970s, the popularity of the Open had boomed, and the 15,000-seat Forest Hills Stadium had become too small to handle the crowds. The USTA moved the Open to the broader expanses of Flushing Meadows in 1978.
The Stadium has gone relatively unused compared to its history as an iconic tennis venue until now. Through some creative thinking and the support of the membership, the Stadium is again one of the premier concert venues in the Northeast. Mumford & Sons, Santana and The Who are some of our recent acts who have played West Side with more to come.
Professional tennis is coming back to West Side, as well as the host site for the New York Empire, the newest team in the Mylan World TeamTennis circuit. The Empire will be coached by Patrick McEnroe and captained by former world number one Andy Roddick.