FH Tennis Stadium makes rock ‘n’ roll comeback

FH Tennis Stadium makes rock ‘n’ roll comeback
Photo by Steve Mitchell/Invision/AP
By Alex Palmer

After years of quiet, the West Side Tennis Club will rock once more. Based in Forest Hills, the stadium has not hosted a concert since the 1990s.

But on Aug. 28, the venue’s managers will be dusting off its sound system and taking its microphone stands out of storage when the band Mumford & Sons headline a show there, for the first of what are expected to be numerous events in coming months.

From 1915 to 1977, the venue enjoyed international prestige as the home of the US Open, with tennis greats, including Billie Jean King, Fred Perry, and Pancho Gonzales, among those who played there. This prominence helped it to become a major concert draw as well.

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan have all played there. It was at the West Side Tennis Club where in July 1967, Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees with famously disastrous results. The teenybopper Monkees fans booed Hendrix, who responded by flipping the audience the bird and storming off the stage.

But when the US Open moved to Flushing Meadows, the 16,000-seat stadium began to lose its luster. It continued to host shows, but these became more sporadic and less attended.

“It just petered out,” said Patrick Confrey, spokesman for the Forest Hills Tennis Club. “The last show was a festival in the 1990s that was sort of a negative experience for everyone involved, including the community, which is why it was the last one.”

But under a new plan the venue will again be playing host to musical acts. The Mumford & Sons show will be the only event this summer, but is the first of several shows planned at the stadium over the next three years. While the building has passed all structural reviews, no major renovations are expected before the first concert, according to Confrey.

“It’s a slow and steady thing,” he said. “When the show happens in August, it won’t be about the bells and whistles — it will be what you see is what you get.”

But going forward, he adds that the venue will be updated and renovated a phase at a time.

The August show is unlikely to have such awkward moments as the Hendrix/Monkees pairing. The folk rock band will be performing with two other British bands of similar sensibilities: Bear’s Den and The Vaccines. But the rough charm of the venue will offer something of a historical experience all its own for attendees.

“It’s not going to be suites and boxes,” added Confrey. “You’ll be watching it like people watched The Doors in 1967.”