West Side Tennis Club returns to serve as music venue

NEW YORK — From Billie Jean King to the Beatles, Jimmy Connors to Jimi Hendrix, Chris Evert to the Rolling Stones.

For decades, the stadium at the West Side Tennis Club was not only one of the cathedrals of tennis — host of the US Open — it was also a stirring music venue, tucked into a leafy neighborhood of stately homes in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens.

That heyday came to an end in 1978 when the Open moved three miles away to the much more expansive grounds at Flushing Meadows.


But a plan is in the works to revive the sound of music at the 16,000-seat stadium and perhaps, one day, bring back big-time professional tennis.

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‘‘We were once the center of the tennis universe,’’ says club president Roland Meier. ‘‘And this is our revival.’’

It begins Aug. 28 with a concert featuring the British band Mumford & Sons, which will serve as a test to convince neighbors that such performances will not create too much of a disturbance. If all goes well, club officials and a promoter are aiming to stage 18 more concerts in the next few years.

‘‘The concerts will go on if they’re palatable to the neighborhood,’’ says Meier. He says the hope is that the music will draw more attention to the century-old Queens club itself — where the membership has dropped from more than 1,000 to 750 in recent years — and help bring back professional tennis events.

The 90-year-old stadium is definitely showing its age, with areas of crumbling concrete and weeds sprouting in the stands. Meier says testing has proved that the stadium is structurally sound but needs repairs to its concrete that are underway, a better sewer system, sealing to avoid water penetration, and new seating.


Still, the edifice retains the columns and archways that made it a distinguished home of the national tennis championships from 1915 to 1977.

This was where Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win the Open, where a teenager from Florida named Evert burst onto the scene, and where Guillermo Vilas beat Connors on clay to win the last men’s final here in 1977.

The 1960s and ’70s were the high point of the stadium as a music venue. The Beatles played two consecutive sold-out shows there in 1964. Barbra Streisand took a break from her role in Broadway’s ‘‘Funny Girl’’ to play a concert that year. Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Who were among the big names.

Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Queens Community Board 6, says he’s been working with the club and police to make sure traffic and noise are kept to a minimum during the Mumford & Sons show.

At one point in 2010, club members voted down a proposal to sell the stadium to a developer who wanted to turn the property into luxury apartments.


Meier says the club’s nearly 12 acres are ‘‘the biggest undeveloped property in Queens, and we want to retain this oasis — an intimate setting with so much history.”