Last month, the club hosted a seminar and tennis antiques trade show with members of the Tennis Collectors of America (TCA), a non-profit founded in 2003 to promote tennis history.
The seminar featured a slide show of the club's history by 45-year member Bea Hunt, plans for the tennis history library by TCA member Alan Edelman, and memories of the U.S. Open from panelists Linna Hunt, Nancy Crabill, Ray Fitzmartin, Jim Sheridan, and moderator and past president Jack Leibler.
The WSTC was founded in Manhattan in 1892 before moving to Forest Hills in 1913, where members built the United State’s first tennis stadium in 1923.
“Originally, there were 13 charter members who organized our club as a men’s tennis club, but that same year, we held our first club championship for men and women,” Hunt said in her presentation last week. “By the end of our first season, we had five tennis courts and 43 members.”
Historic moments at the club include the Wightman Cup, the first international team match for women on the stadium’s opening day, breaking racial color barriers when Althea Gibson became the first African American to win a national tennis title in 1957, and the birth of the U.S. Open, when Billie Jean King played the first “open” match in 1968.
Two years ago, Edelman, a Baltimore resident, was seeking a New York venue to play tennis, visited the WSTC, and met member James Wilson.
“One of the first things I was told, which was shocking, was that West Side doesn’t have much of an archive,” said Edelman. “I consider this the most important tennis institution in the United States. If we can accumulate an encyclopedic history of all of tennis, it will be a very important thing for the tennis world.”
The new archive may include Edelman's collection of over 500 magazines featuring WSTC history from 1953 until the late 1980s. The archive will also document memories of the U.S. Open from members like Crabill, who escorted players to center court from 1975 to 1977.
“Jimmy Connors approached me and asked if I was going to escort Chris Evert onto court,” she recalled. “He asked if I would give her a message, and said to tell her that I love her and wish her luck.”
Hunt worked in the pro shop under the stadium and distributed passes to tennis players. She recalled her experience with a Chilean tennis player who made it to the finals.
“On the day of the tournament, his favorite racquet was still being strung and he told me to please bring it out, even if the game was starting,” she said. “I was shy in front of an audience, but ran out, gave him his racquet and got a standing ovation. That was the high point in my tennis life.”
Fitzmartin worked the U.S. Open for nearly 50 years officiating various matches and tournaments.
“As an umpire, we had to show up at 9 a.m. every day,” he said. “If the match ran three hours, you had to stay that long with no bathroom breaks. You had to wear a blazer and a long sleeve shirt and tie, no matter what the weather was.”
TCA members expressed their support for a public archive. President Becky Desmond, a founding member from Pennsylvania, has been teaching tennis since 1967.
She may donate her personal photos of Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors walking the grounds, and another of Connors and Ilie Năstase cleaning the lines on court after a rain.
“I look forward in seeing how the TCA can help the WSTC, and it’s wonderful that this venture will take place on the historic site and memorabilia will not be locked up in a closet somewhere,” she said.