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Our History

On April 22, 1892, 13 initial members organized The West Side Tennis Club with the modest goal of renting ground on Central Park West and 88th Street, and built two “dirt” 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 ten years, the Central Park West property became too commercially valuable for tennis, so the Club moved to 117th Street and Amsterdam Avenuenear Columbia University, which had room for eight courts. Through the largesse of the land’s owner, Mrs. John Drexel of the prominent banking family, the Club paid a mere $20 per court annually. Through their great savings, the Club converted an old building into a clubhouse with hot showers. By then, the membership had grown to 110 members.

In 1908 with the Drexel lease up and a membership waiting list, the Club rented a location at 238th Street and Broadway, covering two city blocks with room for 12 grass courts and 15 clay courts. The Club built a two story clubhouse, in the style of summer cottages. In 1911, the Club hosted the Davis Cup Final Round matches with Great Britain. The matches featured the great champions Maurice McLaughlin (the “California Comet”) and William Larned, and the crowds numbered 3,000 people per day.

With the successes, 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 received 53 offers, and narrowed the field to three properties in The Bronx, Kew Gardens, and Forest Hills. On December 3, 1912, the Club voted for the Forest Hills Gardens location. They purchased the 10 1/3 acres of land, a few blocks from the Long Island Railroad Station, for a $2,000 down-payment and $75,000 mortgage. The Tudor-style clubhouse, completed the following year, cost approximately $30,000. By the spring of 1914, New York City featured a world-class tennis center with design plans for 64 tennis courts.

The 1915 transfer of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA, now USTA) Men’s National Championship (later the US Open) to the West Side Tennis Club from the Newport Casino was a watershed event in the history of tennis. As early as 1911, top players and Club members like Karl Behr and Lyle Mahan argued that tennis had outgrown the “dwaddling methods” of Newport, with its ill-kept facilities and inconvenience to players now coming from around the nation. The West Side, with its proximity to New York City, excellent facilities, and ability to hold larger (and more savvy) crowds was better suited to host the Championships. After contentious arguments, played out greatly in the press, the West Side’s supporters, mainly top-ranked players, won out in a close vote of the Association on February 5, 1915. For the next six decades, the Championships would be held at the West Side.

Because of its excellent courts, size and location, the West Side proved the most profitable tennis club for holding USNLTA tournaments. The Club’s success forced the issue of building America’s first Tennis Stadium to accommodate the larger crowds. The project, with a cost of $150,000 financed by the Club and the USLTA, began construction in April 1923 and opened in August. The horseshoe-shaped, 13,000-seat Stadium, saw American victories in the inaugural Wightman Cup matches. These were followed that same year by the Davis Cup Challenge Round and the Women’s National Championships.

The US Open showcases the climactic finale for the most treasured of tennis achievements, the Grand Slam. The West Side featured the greatest players in tennis history. The 1920’s and 1930’s saw greats such as Bill Tilden, Bill Johnston, and Helen Wills Moody. After World War II, many dynamic champions showcased their talent and tenacity: Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis on the men’s side, and Maureen Connolly, Althea Gibson, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin and Martina Navratilova for the women. The National/Open saw some of its biggest moments and changes while at West Side, including the introduction of seedings in 1927, the first US Open in 1968, tiebreakers in 1970, equal prize money for men and women in 1973, and night play in 1975. The Challenge Round of the Davis Cup was held at West Side ten times, more than any other venue.

By the end of the ’70s, the popularity of the Open had boomed and the 15,000-seat Forest Hills Tennis Stadium had become too small to handle the crowds. The USTA moved the Open to the broader expanses of Flushing Meadows in 1978.

In 1978, the West Side hosted the Forest Hills Invitational for top pros, followed in 1980 by an even stronger showcase, the WCT Tournament of Champions. Champions included John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi and WSTC member Vitas Gerulaitis.

Along with tennis events and beginning in 1960, the West Side has hosted music concerts in its Stadium for decades. The Club featured concerts which included The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, and the Boston Pops who were just some of the musicians that performed. A new wave of concerts following the 2013 rehabilitation of the Stadium include Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran, Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, James Taylor, and the return of The Who, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.

Anchored by its history, its famous Stadium and familiar Tudor clubhouse, the West Side maintains both a majestic setting and a tranquil oasis for premier tennis in the heart of New York City.