Ruin in the Forest: A Stadium Once Fit For the US Open Falls Into Disrepair

Monday, August 29, 2011 - 05:00 PM

Empty wooden seats inside Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. (Nate Chura)

On top of 2.5 acres of prime real estate in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, is the iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Once home to the U.S. Open, this crescent arena built in 1923 where the first African-American won a major tennis championship and women first earned equal prize money is now a crumbling ruin.

The West Side Tennis Club, which owns it, is considering selling the stadium that served as home to the U.S. Open until 1978 when the tournament moved to its current address in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where it opened Monday.

“Right now, we’re looking into ways to bring some revenue from that area of the club," club president Ken Parker said.

The stadium had been used for various events since the U.S. Open left Forest Hills, but it was last used in 2008 for a ladies satellite tournament.

It hasn't been well cared for since, Parker said.

“It’s not in danger of collapsing, immediately,” Parker said, “but there’s some problems with pieces of concrete falling down at times. It’s in a state of disrepair.”

Tennis journalist Bud Collins covered the action at the first televised broadcast of the US Open at Forest Hills in 1968.

“So much history is lodged in those walls,” Collins said. “Althea Gibson playing and breaking the color barrier in 1950, ‘Big’ Bill Tilden and Billie Jean King, you just go down the list of champions.”

Last fall, the Cord Meyer Development Corporation offered the club $9 million to turn the arena into luxury apartments. Though the proposal was ultimately defeated, interest in the stadium has not waned.

“This is still an ongoing issue with the members, what we want to do with this stadium,” Parker said.

Those looking to see the structure preserved, however, suffered a blow this spring when the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) opted not to recommend the stadium for landmark status.

The arena was designed by architect Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, who also designed Baltimore’s Penn Station. His vision for the stadium was a concrete revival of Rome’s Colosseum in Queens. But LPC spokesperson Elisabeth de Bourbon said, after close examination, her staff found the stadium was too badly compromised.

(Photo courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council)

“Its architectural features have deteriorated,” de Bourbon said.

Their assessment of the stadium prompted Forest Hills resident and tennis fan Michael Perlman to take action. He’s collecting as many signatures as he can for his online petition "Landmark and Restore the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.” He said the Commission’s decision is unfair.

"Other buildings were landmarked in the past that had greater physical deterioration than the Forest Hills tennis stadium," Perlman said.

On August 1, the West Side Club issued a request for new proposals. Among those currently considering a bid are Toll Brothers, the national luxury home builder, and, again, Cord Meyer.

“I think it would really be a crime, almost, to tear down that stadium that has meant so much to the game, and could mean a lot as the years go by," Collins said.

Nate Chura
Center Court was home to some tennis legends, now it's in a state of disrepair.

An old postcard picture of Forest Hill Tennis Stadium from the Rego-Forest Preservation Council flickr page.

Anita Ruthling Klaussen
Bud Collins has been commenting on tennis since the 1960s.
Nate Chura
The cracks and faded details of the stadium.
Nate Chura
Wooden seats inside the stadium.


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Comments [5]

john sigmund from forest hills

Move on already....knock it down and put up vondos. Enough with this bleeding heart stuff and move into the 21st century. It is an eyesore that has to go. It's a sport stadium, not arelisious site. NOBAMA!

Feb. 24 2012 07:19 PM

Thank you, Nate, for your interview & feature on the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Most recently, President Obama's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is in favor of preserving & reopening the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. They said the Landmarks Preservation Commission "irked its public duty." The Council is hoping to have it listed as one of our nation's 11 most endangered sites. The National Trust For Historic Preservation publishes an annual list, with hopes of a site sparking international support. They will also correspond with elected officials on local levels. Rego-Forest Preservation Council is continuing to advocate for city landmarking, despite the double-standard & their actions which seem to counteract why the Landamarks Law was signed into being in 1965. Besides city landmarking, if the West Side tennis Club supports state and federal landmarking through the State & National Register of Historic Places, it can apply for grants and tax credits, and be eligible for other funds. These funds can help the WSTC, any partnership, or future owner with restoration work. A creative mixed-use venture is the way to proceed. It could be used for tennis, concerts (perhaps more subdued), corporate events, music & art festivals, charity events, weddings, graduations, school trips and events, etc. It would prove far more beneficial and very likely cost-effective than any typical, out-of-context condos would. This is the Forest Hills Gardens, and the not Anytown USA. This stadium helped put Forest Hills on the map. It was designed by the famed Kenneth Murchison, & was the 1st concrete tennis stadium in the country. Let's give back to the greater community, enhance character, and foster jobs and local business.

Sep. 27 2011 10:48 PM

It seems a shame that well-located land like this should sit unused much of the time when human beings need housing, jobs, places to shop, schools, parks, etc.

Something is wrong with our incentives if such land can be affordably held out of use, whether in the name of nostalgia or for speculation.

We'd be better off if our incentives were such that landholders were motivated to put land to use. The best system I know of would be to place our taxes on land value, and untax the improvements which owners add.

Aug. 31 2011 08:00 AM
MC from Kew Gardens

Shame on the LPC for refusing to protect this beautiful stadium and allowing the West Side Tennis Club to intentionally neglect proper maintenance with an end goal of a fat sale price. Forest Hills and the surrounding areas do not need additional luxury housing units - we already have to many empty ones. The WSTC need to be required to properly maintain it's property. Finding a positive use for the space would go a long way to upgrading it's image-how about a museum to the sports history with a kids instructional program - open to the public?

Aug. 30 2011 01:49 PM
Michael from Staten Island

Rip it down, and put up public housing ala Ebbits Field and the Polo Grounds!

Aug. 30 2011 10:23 AM

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About The Net Post

WNYC is blogging the US Open, the final Slam of the tennis season. WNYC’s Amy Eddings and tennis writer and teaching pro Nate Chura will bring you the highlights of this perennial end-of-summer sports classic. Chime in with your thoughts on the action, your picks to win it all and your questions for the folks who work behind the scenes to make it all happen.


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