Saturday, May 7, 2011

Landmark Ruled Out for Forest Hills Stadium

Saturday, May 7, 2011
[TENNIS1]Uli Seit for the Wall Street Journal

The Forest Hills tennis stadium, right, has fallen into disrepair over the years since it last hosted the U.S. Open in the late 1970s.

New York City won't consider landmark status for the Forest Hills tennis stadium, a structure that had hosted numerous U.S. Open tennis championships as well as musical acts including the Beatles.

The decision is a setback for some local residents, who hoped that a landmark designation would limit potential redevelopment of the site. One controversial proposal called for transforming the crumbling structure into luxury condominiums.

That condo proposal was stymied in October. Still, preservationists—who want to bring back local tennis matches and concerts to the stadium in the Forest Hills Gardens community, one of the toniest neighborhoods in Queens—sought landmark protection as the West Side Tennis Club, which owns the horseshoe-shaped stadium, considers other development proposals.

Associated Press

Billie Jean King during 1971 semifinals.

But on Tuesday, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission said in a brief email that while the stadium has "some historic significance," it won't be considered for the landmarking process because of the "deteriorated state of the building's architectural features."

The news disappointed Michael Perlman, chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, a proponent of saving the site.

"It's clearly a dereliction of public duty, no doubt about it," he said. "It has national and international significance."

Cord Meyer Development Co., the would-be condo developer, declined to comment on the news, though it has said it remains interested in pursuing its plan. Ken Parker, president of the tennis club, said, "We all realize there's historical significance with the club," and promised that any future plans will respect that.

The Queens tennis club was founded in 1892. After the turn of the 20th century, it began hosting what is now the U.S. Open, one of the premier events in tennis. Old awards and pictures—some showing women playing in long skirts—line the walls of the club's grandiose Tudor-style clubhouse.

Associated Press

Courts and clubhouse in 1976.

But the event's popularity outgrew the stadium's roughly 15,000 seats, and the U.S. Open was moved nearby in Queens in the late 1970s.

Since then, the outdated Forest Hills stadium has fallen into disrepair. The repair tab has been estimated at more than $15 million, money the tennis club says it doesn't want to spend.

Last year, club leaders agreed to pursue a deal with Cord Meyer to sell the stadium parcel for as much as $9 million. Club members, however, voted against the sale in October. Some opposed more housing being added the upscale community and others thought the proposed selling price for the land—located within walking distance of a railroad and subway stop—was too low.

Many residents in the area also fondly recall viewing tennis matches and musical acts over the years—including the Beatles in 1964—from the bleachers.

Mr. Perlman vowed to continue his preservation campaign. "Rest assured, our movement to landmark, restore and reopen the Forest Hills tennis stadium will not stop here," he wrote in an email.

A landmarks commission spokeswoman said stadium supporters are welcome to apply again. Even without a city landmark designation, redevelopment of the site isn't a given.

Dramatic changes to the property must be approved by the Forest Hills Gardens Corp., which runs the private neighborhood and enforces strict guidelines to ensure everything built or remodeled matches the local Tudor-style architecture.

Write to Dawn Wotapka at

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