Roof Top Tennis in Manhattan

While New York may be labeled as a tennis town, based on the popularity and buzz of the US Open tennis championships, it is a rather difficult place to play tennis. With a lack of real estate – or the value of real estate on the island of Manhattan – tennis courts are not seen as the best use of space. So where can you place a tennis court? How about on top of a roof! Here’s the story on how Manhattan’s Town Tennis Club was founded by 1931 Wimbledon champion Sidney Wood in his book “THE WIMBLEDON FINAL THAT NEVER WAS… AND OTHER TENNIS TALES FROM A BYGONE ERA” ($14.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com, available for sale here.

In 1952, with the increase in building in New York City fast decimating its numerous empty-lot tennis courts, I got the urge to look into the possibility of utilizing open rooftop areas to save Manhattan’s tennis mavens from settling for racquetball. I knew of no previous exploration of this concept and concentrated my survey on primarily lower buildings.

I could go on ad nauseam, but the final result was the fortuitous discovery of the one time, two-story Doelger Brewery in the upscale Sutton Place area of Manhattan. The street-level space owned by Bill Doelger was occupied by the FBI for a garage on 56th Street. An even luckier find was that the three hi-rise apartment houses that bordered the site to the north and east could not be built on.

Bill immediately saw that a four-court, live action tennis landscape, center-pieced by a remodeled, glass-encased second floor of the brewery as a clubhouse and outer terrace, would be a unique, scenic enhancement for his present and projected buildings. My layout design for a not-for-profit club went straight to his architects, who advised that among the multiple code violations that the project would face, the Doelger’s East 56th Street apartment entrance – the only feasible entry we could have for the club – was a no-chance approval item.  It looked like curtains for us.

But having recruited New York’s Mayor, my friend Bob Wagner, as one of our club’s governors, I asked him if there was any kind of hardship plea worth pursuing. Bob guffawed  and said, “Sid, the city needs tennis courts.” I immediately phoned Bill Doelger who said he wanted to kiss me.

So this and multiple other ensuing code violations were summarily quashed and after phoning the Mayor’s secretary, Mary, a few times for his signature in response to the NYC Building Department code violations, she suggested that I simply initial his name!

I’m reasonably certain that ours was the first-ever rooftop tennis installation, and at present day is still in business. Some of my purist tennis pals may look upon me as a rules and regulation “Benedict Arnold” for the liberties I took to squeeze four courts into an area that was never intended to accommodate them. With 100 feet of width (half a block) to fit pairs of side-by-side, playable doubles courts and leave enough room for the fencing and for the fat lady to pass between the net posts, called for a bit of nimble doings. It came down to cutting nine inches off each outside alley line, (from 4 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. 9 in.) It’s hard to believe, but year after year nobody, including a succession of top-level players on the Church Cup team, the senior version of the Davis Cup, ever had a clue.

Sorry about that, fellows!

With the club humming, my wife Pat suggested that we add a 40 by 80 foot ice rink atop our sitting room, aeons before the Donald Trump-built Central Park skating area came into existence. Even Olympic gold medal winner Dick Button would occasionally drop by for a sunny day spin.

Community Services Premiere Monday on the Tennis Channel

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 10, 2010 – Tennis Channel, the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle, chronicles the renovation of Centennial Tennis Center in Nashville, Tenn., on its new program, Community Surface, which premieres Monday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. ET – the day after the 2010 US Open.

The half-hour Community Surface built by SportMaster takes viewers behind the scenes as Tennis Channel, court-resurfacing company and presenting sponsor SportMaster, and the United States Tennis Association (USTA), renovate the public tennis facility that was badly damaged in Nashville’s May floods.  During the national headline-grabbing storms, 36 inches of rain destroyed many of the 19 courts at Centennial Tennis Center which, due to insufficient repair funds, had left them unplayable and closed this summer.  Following a week of repairs in August, members of the Nashville tennis community were able to enjoy these courts again for the first time since the spring catastrophe.

“By showcasing how the makeover of just one public center can rejuvenate an entire tennis community, we hope Tennis Channel can inspire others to work together to improve their local facilities or help with other tennis needs,” said Laura Hockridge, vice president, original programming, Tennis Channel.  “Three-fourths of our viewers also play tennis recreationally, and this program is a natural reflection of the grass-roots connections that exist all over our country.”

Hosted by writer and television personality Touré, who also hosts Fuse TV’s Hiphop Show and On the Record, the program was taped in Nashville August 10-18.  Centennial Tennis Center’s courts were sealed off with privacy screens during the renovation, with the grand revelation on August 18.

Upon its completion the Centennial Tennis Center now features eight new 36′ kids tennis courts in addition to the 13 existing regulation 78′ courts.  The USTA’s QuickStart play format will be taught on the kids tennis courts.  The QuickStart play format is designed to bring kids into the game with specialized equipment, shorter court dimensions and modified scoring, all tailored to age and size.  Beyond the youth-oriented program, each year the USTA helps numerous communities repair and maintain their tennis facilities through public grants.

“The USTA is proud to be partnering with SportMaster and Tennis Channel to make this happen,” said Kurt Kamperman, chief executive, community tennis, USTA.  “To be able to return these courts back to playing condition allows us to continue our mission of growing the game at all age levels, especially to kids ten and under.”

“The floods caused so much damage throughout the area that we had no idea how we were ever going to get these courts back into playing condition,” said Blain Smith, manager, Centennial Tennis Center.  “We can’t thank Tennis Channel, SportMaster and the USTA enough for helping our tennis community back and hopefully inspiring others to take up the game.”

Tennis Channel (www.tennischannel.com) is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle.  A hybrid of comprehensive sports, health, fitness, pop culture, entertainment, lifestyle and travel programming, the network is home to every aspect of the wide-ranging, worldwide tennis community.  It also has the most concentrated single-sport coverage in television, with telecast rights to the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros (French Open), Australian Open, Olympus US Open Series, ATP Masters Series, top-tier Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship competitions, Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and Hyundai Hopman Cup.  Tennis Channel is carried by eight of the top 10 MSOs and has a national footprint via DIRECTV and DISH Network.