By Bianca Fortis
The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium has reached a major turning point in its history. Although it has not been used for a major event in years, the arena will host English folk rock band Mumford and Sons in August.
The Aug. 28 concert is a trial run of sorts. If all goes well, the venue will have six more concerts a year for the next three years.
“Not only is it a great venue for Queens and New York City, but we are restoring history,” Roland Meier, president of the West Side Tennis Club, said. “We are putting Forest Hills on the map again.”
Meier said the revival has been in the works for the last six to eight months and comes just in time for the club to celebrate its 100th anniversary in Forest Hills. He said the stadium had become essentially a non-producing asset, one that required the club to pay real estate taxes.
“If we would not have found the possibility to do this, there would be no reason to keep the stadium,” he said.
Earlier this year, the stadium underwent inspections and it was found to be structurally sound. Previously, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission considered giving the arena special designation, but the cost of returning the structure to landmark status would have been too great.
So instead, it will return to its former use as a venue, one that can hold as many as 16,000 people.
Meier could only describe the cost to renovate it as “substantial,” but said the revenues from the shows will go back into the stadium.
The club built the stadium in 1923 and the United States Tennis Association managed its upkeep. It was home to the US Open until 1978, when the tournament moved to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
For decades it served as a venue for major musical acts, including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Donna Summer. But after a few too many raucous crowds that disturbed the surrounding neighborhood, concerts came to a halt and the stadium has been silent ever since, gradually falling into disrepair.
Previously the stadium had been under threat of demolition and, according to Michael Perlman, chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, it could have been replaced by condominiums. Perlman and his group launched a campaign to save the stadium.
The decision to host a concert is a success, Pearlman said, and a long way from the plan to demolish the building.
“We’re very hopeful they’ll achieve success in the long term,” Perlman said. “The benefits of saving the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium include saving architectural and cultural traditions and social traditions, too.”
Perlman said the stadium can serve as a cultural and educational resource as well as a space for recreation. It may also be a boon to the nearby business district.
The stadium will bring a variety of musical acts, but will stick to more mellow genres, such as classical, folk or country.
“Don’t expect six rock concerts every year,” Meier said. “We are trying to be more palatable to neighbors. I cannot have vibrations which move foundations.”
Meier said concerns from the community are being addressed early on. For example, concert-goers will be discouraged from driving to the stadium to prevent parking problems, and foot traffic will be guided around the stadium, away from homes. The concert will end early to meet the community’s 10 p.m. curfew.
“We’re being extremely sensitive to the neighbors,” Meier said. “Unlike in the ’60s and ’70s, when nobody cared.”
Meier said despite some early concerns, he has only received positive feedback from community members.
“I’m confident we can pull this off,” he said, “although I will be biting my nails on the 28th.”
He expects membership of the West Side Tennis Club, which currently stands at 750, to increase as the stadium comes back to life.
Among his many plans for the club and stadium, Meier hopes to make tennis more popular again. “But I also want us to become a center for cultural events,” he said. “I want us to become diversified, in a sense.”
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.