Good morning. Today we’ll look at the place where the precursor to the U.S. Open was played for more than 40 years. Also, the clock in front of Trump Tower that the city was slow to notice.
The U.S. Open, which kicks off today in Queens, brings two weeks of (usually) great tennis to New York, bracketed around Labor Day weekend. The top-ranked players scheduled to play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center include Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek and Victoria Azarenka in women’s matches and Novak Djokovic and Frances Tiafoe on the men’s side.
Our reporter Corey Kilgannon, who visited the place where the U.S. Open was played for years, explains how a 100-year milestone was celebrated there.
Three miles from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the Open is now played, is an overlooked tennis landmark.
The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, tucked neatly into a stately neighborhood just off Queens Boulevard, opened a century ago, and the national championship was held there through 1977. It is perhaps better known nowadays as a concert venue where the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix performed.
The West Side Tennis Club, which owns the stadium, says it opened in August 1923 as the first tennis stadium in the country and the second worldwide, after Wimbledon, whose Centre Court had opened a year earlier, in 1922. It made Forest Hills “the center of tennis in the Western Hemisphere,” said Beatrice Hunt, a longtime club member who helps keep its archives.
Competitors called playing there “playing Forest Hills,” the former pro Dick Stockton said at a celebration of the stadium’s centennial at the West Side Tennis Club on Saturday.
That terminology did not translate well once the championship moved to the larger, city-built National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, he said. “Playing Flushing Meadows,” he said, “doesn’t have a good ring to it.”
So players simply began calling the tournament “the Open,” said Stockton, who played often in the stadium at Forest Hills. He said that as a child, he sneaked in through an open gate because he did not have money for tickets.
“Playing here back then, it felt like a huge venue,” he said while looking over the horseshoe-shaped stadium, whose columns and archways are intact. “The stands wrapped around the court, and the sound of the ball being hit, that echo, it was unlike anywhere else. It just added to the drama of playing here.”
Movie fans know it for a different kind of drama: Scenes for the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film “Strangers on a Train” were shot there during the 1950 Davis Cup finals. Several scenes in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) were filmed in and around the stadium.
But after the Open moved to Flushing Meadows and concerts were curtailed in the late 1980s, the stadium deteriorated and was in danger of being converted into residential buildings. Repairs were made in 2013 and concerts were revived, not without controversy. Longstanding complaints from some neighbors persist about concerts they say are too noisy and run too late into the night.
On Saturday evening, partygoers dressed in summer tennis wear and party outfits gathered for cocktails next to the stadium. Then club officials directed them to an old safe the size of a small coat closet that had been dragged out from some forgotten corner. The officials proceeded to unlock it for the first time in decades, in something of an old-time stunt that seemed part of the nostalgia for the stadium’s grand old days.
“Is Bill Tilden inside?” shouted one onlooker, referring to the great player during the 1920s who won most of his seven national championships at Forest Hills.
The safe was rusty and musty, and its contents were comparatively disappointing: some empty money bags, some canvas, some plastic, and a sheet listing concession food revenue from a past tournament.
The guests adjourned to a dinner that honored the great female player Althea Gibson, who broke the color barrier in the 1950s. They also honored Joe Hunt and John Newcombe, who also had important moments at Forest Hills.
And Joel Drucker, a tennis historian and writer, drew parallels between musical and tennis talent at the stadium: Just as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison displayed electrifying ways of playing music, stars like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe brought new levels of excitement to fans.
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At Trump Tower, the clock the city never noticed
The Trump Organization installed a four-sided clock on Fifth Avenue without applying for a permit or paying a fee. It’s hard to miss: It’s 16 feet tall. It gets great reviews on TripAdvisor.
The city considers it “street furniture,” which the city defines as including clocks, along with benches, permanent trash receptacles, planters and just about anything else imaginable.
New York collects millions of dollars from property owners who put “street furniture” on sidewalks. A permit for a stand-alone sidewalk clock like the one outside Trump Tower typically costs about $300 a year and typically runs for 10 years.
The city never pressed the Trump Organization about the clock until early in 2015, after The New York Times inquired about it while researching an article on street furniture in general. The Transportation Department, the agency that grants permission for street furniture on sidewalks (and collects the fees) was caught unawares. The Trump Organization was defiant.
“Let them prove we owe anything,” declared Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer at the time.
In May 2015, the city ordered Trump’s company to remove the clock within 30 days. The following October, the company’s engineers formally applied for a permit.
Negotiations followed over whether the clock needed to be relocated because it was too close to the entrance to the building. Also at issue were 20 nearby concrete planters.
The Trump engineer submitted a revised permit application in January 2016, but documents released by the Transportation Department don’t indicate whether it was ever approved. And once Trump became the Republican nominee and was elected later that year, security concerns apparently took priority. The clock remained.
Then, last November, The Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city for communications about the clock. The response, received at the end of May, revealed only a few inconclusive letters about the 2015 permit application.
On July 19, the Transportation Department again wrote to the Trump Organization, saying that the city could place a lien on the property if the clock and planters were not removed within 30 days. According to the city, the Trump Organization responded to the letter and is beginning the application process again.
“The clock has been a hallmark of Trump Tower for nearly 20 years,” Kimberly Benza, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, said in an email. “We will certainly work in conjunction of the city, to the extent that they are missing any paperwork.”
South Beach summer
Every summer, I looked forward to swimming at South Beach on Staten Island.
My Aunt Emma packed salami sandwiches, cans of Coke wrapped in aluminum foil and a sleeve of store-bought cookies. When it came time to eat, the sandwiches inevitably had a special crunch thanks to stray grains of sand.
Aunt Emma would throw out the beach blanket, unfold a few chairs, set up the umbrella and slather me with sunscreen.
The waves and undertow in the bay were strong. Why should I worry? I had my intermediate swimming card from the Red Cross, which I had earned as a C.Y.O. day camper.
At 12 years old, I thought I looked great in the fashionable two-piece bathing suit I had recently bought. How I wished a boy would notice me.
Did I listen to my aunt and stay near the shore and in front of the lifeguard stand?
Of course not, and a boy did notice me: The lifeguard jumped in when I was hit by a series of waves and drifted out to deeper water.
— Judith Gropp
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Bernard Mokam and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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James Barron is a Metro reporter and columnist who writes the New York Today newsletter. In 2020 and 2021, he wrote the Coronavirus Update column, part of coverage that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service. He is the author of two books and was the editor of “The New York Times Book of New York.” More about James Barron
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