Behind the music: A stadium's restoration
by Michael Perlman
Sep 10, 2013 | 4507 views | 1 1 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Yasser Hefny of Hunt Architects with Mumford & Sons.
Yasser Hefny of Hunt Architects with Mumford & Sons.
Construction manager Carl Dogali with his crew.
Construction manager Carl Dogali with his crew.
August 28, 2013, will be remembered as the date that Forest Hills entered a new era.

The West Side Tennis Club stadium, largely unused and falling into disrepair since its last major concert in the 1980s, underwent a nearly $1.5 million initial restoration and played host to Mumford & Sons and 17,000 of the band's fans.

The event elicited fond memories of legendary Forest Hills music festivals from the 1950s through the 1970s, and was the first time an entire generation had ever stepped foot in the stadium.

However, did all of those people realize the logistics of the restoration work in the weeks before the concert, as well as the restoration plans to follow?

When the stadium was at risk of being sold by the club to developer Cord Meyer in 2010 to make way for condos, proponents of the sale claimed the stadium was structurally unsound. However, engineering assessments contradicted those claims.

“When I first toured the stadium it was a crumbling mess, but could be turned into a priceless jewel,” said concert promoter Mike Luba of WTSC Entertainment, which has plans to stage 18 more concerts over the next three summers.

Initial stages of restoration posed a time-sensitive challenge. Construction manager Carl Dogali had a short window between June 20 and August 17 to complete the work, and he had only stepped foot in the stadium three days before the project was to begin.

“Phase one involved removing weathered wooden benches from the grandstands,” he explained. “Then I power-washed the stadium’s topside and patched the concrete. Phase two addressed falling concrete on the bottom side and the archways. Phase three was building a new entranceway on Burns Street, away from the residential blocks.”

“The stadium is probably as secure now as it was in 1923, if not better,” said Richard Del Nunzio, co-chair of the tennis club's Facilities Committee, on a recent tour of the stadium.

The horseshoe-shaped stadium’s façade features a distinctive colonnade of Roman archways, which appear golden at sunset. The upper portion is embellished with glazed terra-cotta shields featuring the West Side Tennis Club logo, as well as eagles overlooking the stadium.

The producers replaced flagpoles above the eagles, replicated portal signs, and removed the windscreen from the stadium’s base to reveal roundels and pilasters.

In 1923, the stadium became the first concrete tennis stadium in the United States, and was designed and built by two masterminds. Kenneth Murchison was a foremost public building architect, who also designed Baltimore’s Penn Station and the Hoboken Terminal. The Foundation Company was its builder, which specialized in superstructures in Paris, Rio De Janeiro and London.

Construction began on April 9, 1923, and it was dedicated on August 11 of the same year. The first International matches for the Wightman Cup began that day.

Award-winning firm Hunt Architects was hired to restore and upgrade the stadium. Architect Linna Hunt said upcoming work will include sealing the stadium’s concrete to prevent water infiltration and further improvements to improve egress and handicap accessibility.

“We always felt the stadium had tremendous potential to be restored to its former glory as a world class arena, and we’re pleased to be part of the team that is restoring this historic structure,” she said.

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Ray Walker
September 22, 2013
Michael, sorry that I couldn't be with you for the, great, reopening event. I wish future success to all event promoters, performers, athletes, our Rego-Forest Preservation Council, and The West Side Tennis Club.