A History of the US Open in New York: From the West Side Tennis Club to Arthur Ashe Stadium

Posted On Sun, September 4, 2016 By

Posted On Sun, September 4, 2016 By In Features, Flushing, History, Queens

US Open fever has once again swept the city, and though nowadays it’s all Venus and Serena and craft beers and lobster rolls, there’s a long history behind the world-famous event. Here, 6sqft takes a look at how the international tournament made its way from an elite, private club in Newport Rhode Island, to Forest Hills’ West Side Tennis Club, and finally to its current home in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, even uncovering a little connection to the 1964 World’s Fair.

Newport Casino Tennis Court, US Open, Newport Rhode Island, grass tennis courtsL: A US Open tennis match at the Newport Casino in 1909; R: A view of the International Tennis Hall of Fame today

The first US Open match was held in August 1881 on grass courts at the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. Members of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA) were the only people able to attend. Today, the McKim, Mead & White-designed Casino is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

By 1911, a group of tennis players headed by New Yorker Karl H. Behr petitioned for the tournament to be moved to Behr’s home city. They succeeded in 1915, when 100 players signed a petition, asserting that most tennis clubs, players, and fans were located in New York. After a vote of 128 to 119 by the USNLTA, the event was moved to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens. Aside from a brief hiatus from 1921-1923 when the game was played at the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia, the annual sporting event remained in Forest Hills until 1977.

West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills Queens, US Open, Historic tennis courtsL: West Side Tennis Club in 1912; R: A match at the Club in 1914

The West Side Tennis Club was founded in 1892 in Central Park West when 13 members rented land for three clay courts and a clubhouse. Ten years later the club moved up near Columbia University, expanding to eight courts, and moved again in 1908 to 238th Street and Broadway, this time expanding to 12 grass courts and 15 clay. After hosting the Davis Cup in 1911 and drawing thousands of fans, the club realized it need to expand yet again. In 1912, it attained a permanent site in Forest Hills, Queens and a Tudor-style clubhouse was erected the following year.

west side tennis club

west side tennis club
The West Side Tennis Club today

Once the US Open (then known as the International Lawn Tennis Championship) came to the Forest Hills courts in 1915, a 14,000-seat horseshoe-shaped stadium was built with classic columns and graceful arches; it still stands today, along with 37 other courts. During the 1960s and ’70s, the stadium hosted countless high-profile concerts, including those of Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. Though currently operating as a private club, plans were released in 2010 to raze the historic site and replace it with condominiums. Citing its deteriorating condition, the Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark status for the West Side Tennis Club in 2011, but the club’s owners have not yet accepted a redevelopment bid.

Singer Bowl, 1964 World's Fair, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, historic World's Fair photosSinger Bowl during the 1964 World’s Fair- L: © NYPL; R: © Gorillas Don’t Blog

In 1978, the tournament relocated to the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, a larger site that also offered hard courts instead of clay, which had been used in Forest Hills. When looking for a new home, incoming USTA President W.E. Hester saw the old Singer Bowl from the window of an airplane flying into LaGuardia Airport. The open-air stadium was built for events during the 1964 World’s Fair. It seated 15,000 people and had a 60-foot movable stage. During the fair it hosted the 1964 Olympic trials, as well as folk festivals and various sporting exhibitions. Named for the Singer Sewing Company, it showcased a series of displays related to sewing machines, typewriters, and vacuums. It also hosted many concerts in the years to follow, including a 1968 show by the Doors with the Who as the opening act.

Louis Armstrong StadiumLouis Armstrong Stadium today

In preparation for the USTA’s move, the old, rectangular Singer Bowl was renovated and divided into two adjacent stadiums, becoming the Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand Stadium. The latter is currently the third-largest stadium at the US Open with 8,125 seats.

Louis Armstrong Stadium is the second largest and can hold 10,200 spectators. At its peak, it held close to 18,000, but was renovated in 1997 after being replaced as the tournament’s main stadium by Arthur Ashe Stadium. A new Louis Armstrong Stadium is planned to be completed by the 2018 games. As part of a $550 million renovation of the National Tennis Center, it will get a retractable roof and have 15,000 seats.

US Open, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, tennis stadiumsArthur Ashe Stadium in recent years

The retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium is opened and closed for the first time at the UST Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y., USA on Aug 2, 2016. Photo: Ashley Marshall/USTA

US Open, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, tennis stadiums

Named for tennis great Arthur Ashe, Arthur Ashe Stadium opened as the US Open’s main court in 1997 with 22,547-seats. It cost $254 million to construct and features 90 luxury suites, five restaurants, and a two-level players’ lounge, crowning it the largest outdoor tennis venue in the world.

This year, the stadium unveiled its $100 million retractable roof. As Curbed explains, “The roof is comprised of two panels that sit atop a 6,500 ton steel superstructure. This is covered with a special fabric that allows for the sun to reflect off of the panels and make the stadium more energy efficient.” Plus, it can be opened or closed in just seven minutes.

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  • Robert Barron

    Interesting article! One correction: the Grandstand adjacent to Louis Armstrong Stadium is now called “The Old Grandstand” and does not have a capacity of 8125 seats–a new Grandstand opened this year (2016) and it is that stadium that has a capacity of 8125 seats. The Old Grandstand has a capacity of 5800 and is to be demolished along with Louis Armstrong Stadium at the completion of the 2016 US Open.

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