Forest Hills wants stadium landmarked

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Residents lamented the rejection of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium’s landmark application last week — not because they will lose an icon, but for what they might get in its place.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected an application to save the storied building, which hosted the US Open from 1915 to 1977. Tennis legends such as Billie Jean King and Stan Smith played on its courts. Later big-name bands like The Beatles played concerts in the stadium.

But the rejection means the West Side Tennis Club, which owns the stadium, is free to do whatever it wants with the property.

And that is what worries many of the stadium’s neighbors.

“I’m totally against them building housing there,” said Joel Turken, who has lived in the neighborhood his entire life. “I’m concerned that the real estate people will get whatever they want and won’t listen to the residents.”

The West Side Tennis Club declined to comment.

The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce would welcome more shoppers, however, according to President Leslie Brown.

“I guess an increase in population is an increase in traffic,” she said.

But Brown also said if any housing is built, a thorough study should be done on parking and traffic. And it should fit in with the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

“I think the architecture has to fit in with Forest Hills Gardens,” she said.

Jenna Wronski also feared an influx of people if housing were to be built on the site.

“[The stadium] protects overcrowdi­ng,” she said. “Development would make parking worse.”

But Wronski also had a soft spot for the stadium and said “there is something about the stadium that is just nice.”

The real estate people did not win over the West Side Tennis Club last year, when Cord Meyer proposed a plan for condos that would have retained the outer structure of the stadium.

But the proposal was rejected by the club, which could not get a two-thirds majority vote.

That plan would have saved the stadium, but still not have pleased other residents who live on nearby streets.

“A landmark? Maybe not,” said Matthew Fitzgerald, who has lived in Forest Hills for 51 years. “But I don’t want it to be apartments. There would be so much traffic.”

That was also the concern of Elaine Dickman, who has lived in the same house for the last 81 years.

“Where are all the cars going to go?” she asked. “It would ruin traffic.”

But she also thought the stadium was an essential part of the neighborhood.

“I’ve certainly seen it in its heyday,” Dickman said. “It seems almost a crime to not landmark something that has been here for so long.”

But other residents did not see the big deal, since the stadium is privately owned and not open to the public.

“It’s not for the public,” said a woman who would only identify herself as Vera. “You have to pay $3,000 for a membership. That’s not for us.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:43 am, October 12, 2011
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