Return of the Davis Cup in Forest Hills

The past decade has been a rebirth for the historic West Side Tennis Club. There was the return of concerts in 2013, a pro tennis event in 2016, and the annual Heritage Day event.
Most recently, the club hosted a Group II playoff series of the Davis Cup by Rakuten. On September 18 and 19, South Africa defeated Venezuela, 4-0. Victories were achieved in singles and doubles by rising Association of Tennis Professionals star
Lloyd Harris, a 24-year-old South African who recently reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals, was victorious in both singles and doubles play.
“The Davis Cup has always been a part of my schedule,” he told the media. “It is obviously very important to represent your country, and get out there and play.
“This is an incredible venue,” Harris said of WSTC. “I learned so much about this venue and its history over the last few days. I’m obviously very, very honored to be playing in a special place.”
Philip Henning of the South African squad called it “honor” to represent his country in Forest Hills.
“We love our sport, and this place is one of the places with the most history for tennis,” he said. “A lot of big names played on this court.”
“As a player, you always dream to be in the historic venues, and the important sites and most famous stadiums and arenas all over the world, and this is one of them,” said Venezuelan Ricardo Rodriguez after his loss to Henning. “Even though I lost, I still feel lucky to be here.”
The Davis Cup was founded in 1900 by Dwight Davis at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. It originated as a challenge match between the U.S. and the British Isles. Today, it is the largest international team competition with over 120 nations.
“We would love to host more Davis Cup matches or other big pro events,” said Jason Weir-Smith, WSTC’s director of Racquet Sports. “WSTC has proven to be a suitable and enjoyable site for players and fans, with an unparalleled tennis history in the United States.
“With Queens being one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the world, Forest Hills would be particularly attractive for national team events or tournaments with popular international tennis stars.” he added.
The Davis Cup was last played in Forest Hills Stadium in 1959. Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, and Neale Fraser led Australia to a Davis Cup win over the U.S., which was led by Alex Olmedo, Butch Buchholz, and Barry MacKay.
The Davis Cup was last held in Queens in 1981 at the USTA National Tennis Center. A quarterfinals match between the U.S. and Czechoslovakia featured John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl.
Weir-Smith said the public is nostalgic for Forest Hills tennis.
“Those who are perhaps too young to see pro tennis here, have certainly seen videos and pictures that display the majesty, beauty, and history of the club,” he said.
Randolph Walker was the U.S. Davis Cup press officer from 1997 to 2005. The first Davis Cup he attended was in 1981 at the USTA National Tennis Center.
“In a summer that saw Major League Baseball played at the ‘Field of Dreams’ in Iowa, it certainly was special for pro tennis to return to its own Field of Dreams,” said Walker. “So many people could feel the ghosts of tennis champions past.
“That made the event so memorable for all, and will make future tennis events played on that court much more special,” he added.

The Toy Puzzle That Became A Sensation

The Roalex Company, which specialized in toys and novelties, signed a lease for 65-43 Austin Street in Forest Hills in 1952 when the western end of Austin Street was dominated by industrial facilities.
Alvin M. Borenstein, who passed away in 1978, was founder of the company and mastermind behind the Roalex puzzle, a 15-piece interlocking and sliding that formed various versions of an illustrated theme.
The small animated puzzle would become a source of enrichment and enjoyment for children and adults, and almost immediately rose in popularity nationally. There were at least a few hundred varieties and they were produced until 1971.
Borenstein sold products based on cartoon and television shows that were popular at the time, including Felix the Cat, Bozo The Clown, Mighty Mouse, Magilla Gorilla, The Jetsons, The Alvin Show, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear.
The 1964-1965 World’s Fair was also celebrated in a puzzle, allowing a player to create the Unisphere.
“I think he had a partner named Robert, so they used RO, and AL for Alvin, and Ex for export, to come up with Roalex,” said his son Edward Borenstien, who lives in Bellmore.
He was raised in Manhattan with his brother, Stanley, who also calls Bellmore home.
“I would go to work with my dad and pasted the puzzles on the cardboard using glue,” recalled Stan. “I would go almost every Saturday with my dad to work and do that or help build shelves or make boxes.”
Besides puzzles, other toys and novelties were manufactured.
“My father was big into making kites with characters on it and they were great,” said Ed. “He also made novelties like the ‘Arrow Through the Head.’ I recall Steve Martin using that in his act when he was a young comedian.”
In 1957, their father was interviewed by Robert Williams of the New York Post.
“Nothing is new, it seems,” he said at the time. “The arrow must be 40 years old, at least. The magicians used to employ the same device to provide the illusion of a knife piercing an assistant. The silent movies used to use the same thing in westerns to show cowboys shot with arrows.”
“The arrow was, of course, just one of a million ideas which are constantly haunting Borenstein’s imagination in as much as he is in the business of creating and producing novelties, not to mention gimmicks and gadgets, which is a business where imagination is the essence of economic survival,” Williams wrote in his feature piece.
Stan recalled the puzzles selling for 69 cents around 1970, but in today’s market, these collectibles sell online anywhere from $25 to $500. He has ten of the original games in his possession.
“I’ve showed my kids, and they still work great,” he said. “I often think about rebooting and maybe marketing with business cards or giveaways at trade shows.”
“Our father would be so excited to know the impact and legacy his puzzles left,” Ed added. “My dad passed away so long ago, that my family really never knew about all that he did. Unfortunately, the business went under and my dad was never the same.
“This was his life and he put everything into it, but when he got into financial difficulty, he was never able to recover,” Ed continued. “We truly believe that led to his passing at 58.”

Queens resident shares the joy of reading through community library

“No child should be without a book” believes Kay Menashe, who has been making a difference for people of all ages with a donation-based library service.
The 44-year-old Howard Beach resident and former EMT owns and operates the Free Community Library of Ozone Park.
“During the height of the pandemic when all libraries were shut down, my goal was to make sure every child had a book to read,” said Menashe. “My free library originated when I placed a few of my own books out, and the community began taking them.
“Then we were asked by other community members if they could leave their books as well,” she added. “All of our books come from a different home with a tale to tell.”
The library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, weather permitting, since the library operates outdoors at locations announced on social media. The books come from community donations.
“We accept all books, as the Queens public libraries no longer take donated books since the pandemic,” Menashe said. “The only supplies we need are books, which we know most of you have at home just sitting around collecting dust.”
Menashe was recently named runner-up of the second annual Sparkling Ice’s “Cheers to Heroes” contest to honor America’s everyday heroes.
The contest received 1,000 nominations from 905 American cities with three finalists. Menashe received $7,500.
“We received such support from the community and from the parties and events we ran,” she said. “We won because the community voted for us and since our library makes a difference.”
Menashe hope to further develop her initiative, hoping the Queens community can help her find a small permanent space in an office or retail establishment.
“The books need to be displayed and stored and stay dry when it rains,” she explained. “We would also like to see a mom-and-pop coffeehouse go into business with us. My vision is to see my community members sitting down with coffee and maybe a slice of pie while reading free books they can take home.”
Menashe believes reading a physical copy is the best way to enjoy a book.
“I feel that e-reading takes away from the magic, including the new book smell,” she said. “As you hold books, it lets you relax. An e-reader is just a computer screen where you feel nothing.”
With titles spanning every genre in the community library, every day becomes a journey filled with surprises. She explained her personal inspiration is not just one person.
“The kids are why I do this mostly,” Menashe said. “Books are expensive for families to buy when you walk into a store, but when you walk into our café, that would never be an issue as your son or daughter would always leave with a free book.”

To donate books or to help the library secure a space, email [email protected] To keep up with the library, follow @communityozpl on Instagram.

Heritage Day returns to West Side Tennis Club

The West Side Tennis Club (WSTC) continues to celebrate and honor its legacy. The club was founded in Manhattan in 1892 and moved to its current home in Forest Hills in 1913.
Last year’s events were largely off-limits due to the pandemic, but on August 27 the fourth Heritage Day event took place. The first was held in 2017 to mark the club’s 125th anniversary.
“Each Heritage Day allows us to relive tennis history with the wonderful tennis legends who join us,” said club president Monika Jain. “As we move forward, we are delighted to welcome current tennis superstars to the club.”
Banners honoring Stan Smith, who won the U.S. Open Singles championship in 1971 and U.S. Open Doubles championships in 1968 and 1974, and Bud Collins, a journalist, commentator, and tennis historian joined banners honoring Maureen Connolly, Jack Kramer, Arthur Ashe, Virginia Wade, Rod Laver, Rene Lacoste, and the first U.S. Open.
“Today the club is honoring two men who have not only made tennis history, but have created legendary status in the tennis world,” said Jason Weir-Smith, WSTC’s director of Racquet Sports, who served as emcee for the event.
Collins’ widow, Anita Ruthling Klaussen, donated much of her late husband’s tennis memorabilia to the club, which will be housed in the library, which was renamed “The Bud Collins Tennis Library.”
“One of the incredible surprises is the people wearing some of Bud’s clothes,” said Klaussen, herself a well-respected photographer. “When they all came to gather the books, all 90 boxes, they brought a crew. At the end of the day I asked, ‘Would you all like to look at Bud’s walk-in closet?’ I said to pick whatever you want.
“I believe Bud would be very, very pleased to know that his cherished tennis books are now housed here,” she added. “He loved the West Side Tennis Club.”
Collins was one of the first writers to make the jump to television.
“I just want you to know, I love hearing you talk,” Klaussen recalls an electrician telling her late husband. “I don’t care about tennis one bit, but I never miss your broadcast, since you’re so interesting.”
Collins also loved to play tennis and carried a racket on all of his travels. One of his favorite partners was opera star Luciano Pavarotti.
Ramsey Smith, head coach of the Duke University men’s tennis team, was making his first visit to WSTC and handled the introduction of his father.
“First and foremost, he’s my father, but he’s also my mentor, coach, and role model,” he said. “Someone I always looked up to and admired.”
“Tennis has been a great sport,” the elder Smith told the crowd. “All four of our kids played in college, it has always been an important part of our lives.”
Smith is the namesake of the popular style of Adidas tennis shoes, and even wrote a book titled “Stan smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe.”
“People always ask about the shoe,” he said. “Back in 1965, the shoe was created as the first leather tennis shoe ever made. Before that, we wore canvas shoes.”
“Seeing him impressed me to see the personal side of the man,” said attendee David Gale of Smith. “Fit, articulate, and appreciative of not only what he accomplished, but also appreciative of the fact that he didn’t do it himself. It is always inspiring to see people who achieved success relatively early in their lives and be very happy and at peace with where they are now.”
“Stan Smith, Anita Ruthling Klaussen, and Bud Collins inspire me through their impact on those around them,” said Michael Perkins. “The ambiance of Heritage Day is characterized by the excitement created by the coming together of loving friends and family to honor their historical and cultural impact.”

New trees in store for Forest Hills, Rego Park

The Parks Department is putting the “forest” in Forest Hills and the “park” in Rego Park with its plans to plant trees in both communities over the next year.
“Our goal is to continue expanding the city’s tree canopy as much as possible,” said spokesperson Charisse Hill. “Our fall 2021 planting projections for the Forest Hills and Rego Park communities are 128 trees, whereas our spring and fall 2022 planting projections for both communities total 425 trees.”
Stretches of Queens Boulevard, 66th Road, 102nd Street, and 67th Avenue are anticipated to have an estimated 16 to 19 additional trees by spring 2022.
Empty tree pits being reforested, while sidewalks are being excavated to accommodate new pits.
Extreme weather in recent years decimated the neighborhoods’ trees, which motivated residents to preserve mature trees and plant new ones, including the Forest Hills Tree Giveaway, which was held in MacDonald Park from 2011 to 2015.
“Young street trees are four times more likely to grow and thrive through tree stewardship, and community engagement can help ensure young street trees grow strong and healthy,” said Hill.
To volunteer to be a tree steward, visit nycgovparks.org/reg/stewardship.
Trees provide a home to wildlife, reduce stormwater runoff, filter and cool the air. Some older trees can feel like an unofficial landmark.
“As the steward of New York City’s urban forest, we take tree planting seriously,” said Hill “We recommend constituents who wish to help accelerate the planting process to pursue tree planting through New York Tree Time. The cost of planting a tree through this program is currently $1,800.”
To participate, email [email protected] or call (718) 361-8101.
A resident does not have to be a homeowner to play a role in the planting and maintenance of city trees. Residents can make note of empty tree pits, dead trees, or request pruning and planting by calling 311.
Over the years, the Parks Department has worked to diversify the street tree canopy.
“Species diversity is essential to maintaining a resilient, robust urban forest,” said Hill. “Planting a wider range of tree species helps combat pests and climate change. Our planting program now incorporates over 200 tree species in its street tree planting palette.”

Art that’s lit! The bygone era of matchbooks

Largely gone are the days when matchbooks were readily available near a cash register. If you have an old matchbook sitting around and collecting dust, chances are that it offers value in the name of history, advertising, and art.
Collecting matchbooks, matchboxes, and matchbox labels is part of a unique hobby known as phillumeny. If the matches are intact, desirability increases.
In 1892, a Philadelphia lawyer named Joshua Pusey, also known as “Ol’ Josh,” invented the matchbook.
In 1894, Diamond Match Company purchased the rights and became the largest manufacturer in the industry. The company’s first factory in Barberton, Ohio, produced an estimated 150,000 matchbook covers daily.
Matchbooks would advertise a wide range of subjects. The golden age of matchbooks spans the 1940s and 1950s, with a range of sizes, colors, unique artwork, and slogans.
In the mid-1980s, the matchbook market folded as a result of anti-smoking campaigns, the efficiency of lighters, and steep labor costs.
Local matchbooks that have survived are countless, and are associated with shops, restaurants, and recreation and entertainment venues. A majority of businesses are no longer in existence, but matchbooks play a role in establishing a timeline of how properties evolved.
Iconic sites that were often portrayed include the Forest Hills Inn, which opened in 1912 and was the center of a classy social life in Station Square. A rare super-sized matchbook with a green, black, and white color scheme features a rendering of the inn on the cover.
Inside are large matches. As long as they remain unseparated, a more detailed work of art depicting the inn is evident.
A yellow-and-red matchbook from 1967 advertised the annual Forest Hills Music Festival and proclaimed Diet-Rite Cola as “America’s No. 1.”
Long before the days of the web, the season’s program was advertised on the inside of a matchbook, including the Lovin’ Spoonful & Judy Collins, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel, Trini Lopez, and the musical couple Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
Entertainment venues that are long-forgotten but live on via matchbook covers include Carlton Terrace and The Stratton nightspots on opposite corners of 71st Road on Queens Boulevard, as well as Boulevard Tavern at 94-05 Queens Boulevard, a dining and wedding venue in Rego Park that attracted Big Bands and solo singer Patti Page.
Rather than illustrations, this matchbook featured color photos depicting an illuminated neon billboard that read “2 Shows Nightly, Luncheon – Dinner.”
London Lennie’s in Rego Park is depicted in a few matchbook cover designs, but much missed by natives is Scott’s at 96-24 Queens Boulevard, which dates back to 1941. Regulars included celebrities Sylvia Sidney, Cornel Wilde, and Thelma Ritter.
The red-and-white cover references “Long Island’s outstanding sea food restaurant.” It features a rod and fish over a map wrapping around the slogan “The fish you eat today slept last night in Chesapeake Bay.”
Sports were spotlighted on matchbooks, including Hollywood Lanes, a 30-lane bowling alley that opened in 1952 in the Metropolitan Bank Building at 99-25 Queens Boulevard.
The blue-and-silver matchbook of Kabak’s Dairy at 102-21 Metropolitan Avenue features a farm illustration with “Butter, Eggs, Cheese,” and advertises self-service, frozen foods, and free delivery along with a vintage phone number, BO 8-3556.
Luncheonettes more than just lunch. A matchbook for Chippy’s Luncheonette at 104-21 Queens Boulevard advertised “Good food, fountain and table service, stationery, papers and magazines.”
An Art Deco-style red-and-black matchbook for Martin Stockman at 71-47 Austin Street advertises a liquor and wine merchant and reads “A name that merits confidence.”
Delicatessens are now few and far between, but on matchbooks they are alive and well. Lloyd’s Delicatessen at 102-35 Queens Boulevard advertises a full seven-course dinner with a choice of 15 main dishes, including a smorgasbord and free parking in the rear.
A wood-themed matchbook captured the essence of Henry’s at 102-29 Queens Boulevard, a popular destination as Queens’ only dairy restaurant and bakery.
A succession of Asian restaurants is evident at 64-43 108th Street. What has been known as Cho-Sen Garden for decades, was once On Luck Restaurant. Its matchbook cover boasts “Chinese and American cooking,” a cocktail lounge, and catering for all occasions.

Community helps restore vandalized statues

The statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Therese the Little Flower have been a cherished part of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Forest Hills since it opened its doors in 1937.
On the morning on July 17, it took only minutes for a woman to drag them into the street and smash them. She is believed to be the same woman who toppled the statues on July 14.
Through the darkness came light, however, as community residents and organizations who joined forces to replicate the statues.
As of Monday, 129 people donated over $19,500 to a fundraiser posted on Go Fund Me started by Brian Allen on behalf of Knights of Columbus–Our Lady of Mercy Council and Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Academy.
The goal is $25,000. In addition, donations can be mailed to Our Lady of Mercy Statue Repair at 79-01 Kessel Street.
As an lector and 14-year parishioner at the church, Michael Conigliaro (also a District 29 City Council candidate), is playing a significant role in fundraising, protecting his parish, and speaking up about hate and vandalism. Upon learning about the crime, he contacted Deacon Dean Dobbins. He said,
“I reached out to a 112th Precinct colleague with a request that a patrol car be parked outside the church and it was granted,” said Michael Conigliaro, a lector and 14-year parishioner at the church.
Replacing the statues shows that hate or disrespect aimed towards any house of faith will not be tolerated.
“For people who pass the parish, they will always see the beauty of the statues and understand what they represent,” added Conigliaro. “Before someone considers performing an act of hate, they should try to empathize and consider what the effect of the damage will have on the community.”
“The statues were such an important element for a young child who needed that gentle but strong maternal figure in their lives” said Lori Jarema, who was a student at Our Lady of Mercy in the 60’s. “I love the pictures we took in front of Mary from my First Communion and graduation.”
Nancy J. O’Connor and her family were parishioners from 1951 to 2006.
“Replacing these statues for the current members and people who recall Our Lady of Mercy fondly sends a message that we will not be intimidated by this type of behavior,” she said. “Each day we see more reports of vandalism and violence, and these actions must have consequences.”
Although Andreea Sudresianu is not a parishioner, she contributed to the fund to replace the statues.
“I used to stop for a few moments and say a little prayer every time I passed by, and I rediscovered this beautiful place on my daily walks during the pandemic,” she said. “I always felt safe on these streets, but I wonder where that woman is and how she dared to do such a terrible thing.”

Stained glass brilliance in residential buildings

Stained glass is often associated with houses of worship, but the apartment buildings built in the ’20s and ’30s in Forest Hills and Rego Park feature numerous examples of decorative glass, ranging in styles from Art Nouveau and American Neo-Gothic to Renaissance and Tudor.
“Glaziers were excellent craftsmen, and these local windows stood the test of time and are absolute treasures,” said Jon Schwartz, a member of the Facebook group Historic New York City.
A development boom was sparked by the opening of the IND subway in 1936 and the 1939–1940 World’s Fair. Apartment buildings with ornate and charming details were a draw for residents who lived in congested Manhattan.
“The light from these windows turns these rooms into beautiful sunlit tapestries,” said Forest Hills resident Pat Lannan, who said they are as important to the neighborhood’s history as the brick pavement in Station Square. “It really is the looking glass into the care and craftsmanship to produce these pieces of art.”
At the time, much of Forest Hills and Rego Park offered a country-like setting with open spaces, recreational conveniences, and modern amenities.
On opposite sides of one street are two outstanding examples of Tudor Medieval meets Gothic buildings.
In 1936, The Mayfair House at 110-21 73rd Road was designed by Cohn Brothers and built by Austin Building Corporation. Its sister building, The Windsor House at 110-20 73rd Road, opened in June 1937. It was built by Arende Building Corporation.
North Carolina resident Richard Delaney, who was raised in the Holland House in Forest Hills, remembered The Mayfair House’s large arched lobby windows. One of them features Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Sower,” a popular figure in stained glass.
“I really thought that I saw glimpses of King Arthur, Lady Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot in some of those portals,” he said. “The magnificent craftsmanship, design, and detail that went into creating these lobbies is incredible.”
Completed in 1931, Sutton Hall at 109-14 Ascan Avenue was designed by Constantinople native Benjamin Braunstein, an award-winning architect.
On its largely intact façade are Medieval-style doors and windows with colorful stained glass that includes knights, horses, ships, and castles.
“Its style and architecture, somewhat reminiscent of an Old English Manor, is replete with quaint charm and rustic simplicity,” a prospectus at the time read. “A superb accomplishment, adapted to every element of fine living, Sutton Hall is one of the outstanding examples of artistic residential planning in the country.”
The castle-inspired Valeria Arms, complete with roof turrets and finials, was also designed by Benjamin Braunstein. It was a most desirable address when it opened in 1929 at 77-16 Austin Street.
It features stained glass arched transom windows with crests in two entryways.
In Rego Park is the Spanish Mission-style Marion Court at 62-98 Saunders Street. Completed in 1929 and also designed by Braunstein, it is among the three earliest apartment buildings developed by Real Good Construction Company.
The distinctive Colonnade features arched leaded-glass windows with spun-glass roundels and two stained glass portals of colorful castle scenes, which add character to the first grand scale lobby of Rego Park.
John Morelli of Forest Hills described one that is partially obscured by an exit sign.
“The obstructed one has sails, so it must be a really nice ship which was probably owned by royalty because that’s mainly who lives in castles,” he said.
“Stained glass is becoming a lost art, and I don’t know why,” said artist Carol Gilmore, who works with stained glass. “How can anyone walk into a building and not be in awe of the beauty and precision, and the light that filters through these beautiful glass windows?”
In 2014, Matt Wiederhold created the Facebook group Vintage American Stained Glass.
“Stained glass is fascinating because it would be such a personal choice for someone building a home,” he said. “Why did they choose certain colors, patterns, designs? I feel the windows give a bit of insight to the homeowner, they tell a story of design and artistry.”

Remembering The Baba of Rego Park

Stepping into The Baba Catering & Nite Club at 91-33 63rd Drive felt like a journey to a faraway land.
Opened in 1968, the Rego Park cornerstone was the go-to spot for anniversaries, showers, and weddings. It was the only Israeli cafe in America affiliated with a sister spot in Tel Aviv.
“This is where my grandparents Sonya and Khayka celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in a beautiful atmosphere,” said Arthur Ilizarov, who also had his Bar Mitzvah there.
The spot’s slogan was “Have fun Middle East-style.” Patrons could enjoy hummus and tahini, gefilte fish, and kafta. On Thursday night, singles were encouraged to mingle and dance.
In the 1970s, Steve Goodman was a college student who worked one summer as an audio engineer at WEVD.
“It was known as ‘the station that speaks your language,’” he recalled. “I had such fun working with Art Raymond, longtime beloved host of the Sunday Simcha Jewish, Yiddish, and Israeli music show sponsored by Cafe Baba. I can still hear his voice as he enticed listeners to plan a visit to Rego Park.
“At a time when New York was rapidly changing, it was The Baba’s sponsorship that kept Jewish music alive on the radio,” Goodman added.
“A Night In Israel” was coordinated by the Parents Council of the Salanta-Akiba-Riverdale Academy in 1971, which entertained attendees with Israeli and modern music. Art Raymond, nicknamed “The Yiddish Tummeler,” performed a comedy routine.
“I’ll always remember my parents Simon and Elise Salz’s 40th anniversary party in 1986,” said Roz Salz. “They loved listening to Israeli music, and we all sang along with the melodies in a very romantic ambiance.”
Robert Rosner was raised nearby and has since relocated to Florida, but The Baba remains close to his heart.
“I had my Bar Mitzvah reception in May 1970,” he said. “I remember how Art Raymond was there that night. He was the life of the party.”
Musician Ari Silverstein recalled many birthday celebrations at The Baba.
“I remember the belly dancer and the band performing in English, Russian, Hebrew, and Spanish,” he said. “There was also a disco ball.”
It also elicits fond memories for Michael Gluck going back 50 years ago.
“I would visit with my parents on various occasions and had my Bar Mitzvah there,” he said. “Most of the contemporary Jewish entertainers of the 1960s and 1970s performed here. My favorite show featured a comedian named Johnny Yune, who was Korean American and recited Jewish jokes. He was a guest on ‘The Tonight Show’ and was always very funny.”
In 1993, The Baba came under new management and continued as a kosher restaurant and night club.
“The only kosher Russian restaurant around” was headed by Terry Ellis, a native of Soviet Georgia. It was a family effort with the assistance of her husband Alex, daughters Yvette and Nina, ad son Max, as well as business partner Alex Gutgarts.
At the time, The Baba featured ornate chandeliers, lamps, and mirrored walls. Some of the unique dishes were red caviar with blintzes and stuffed fish and chicken in walnut sauce, a popular Georgian food.
Patrons felt as if they were in Russia as they ate blintzes with meat, Loulya Kabob, and Hinkali dumplings. On Sunday afternoons, a violinist and a gypsy dancer would entertain the crowd.
“In the late 1990s, I used to perform there every weekend,” said dancer Sira Melikian. “It seemed like an exotic castle with its diamond-like mirror mosaics adorning the outside. I was very sad to see the façade and its name change, as it was a Rego Park staple. The very special design set it apart from anything else in the neighborhood.”

Greener horizons at West Side Tennis Club

West Side Tennis Club members and guests were first to play on the newly resurfaced field of eight state-of-the-art grass courts at the iconic Forest Hills club last Friday.
“To have been able to take on a transformational upgrade of our grass courts at this moment in time is a testament to our Board of Governors, our members, and our commitment to our mission,” said club president Monika Jain.
Virginia Wade, who won the 1968 U.S. Open, was a guest of honor.
“I had deja vu watching all these good players out today,” she said. “I know what good grass is like. Grass technology is so sophisticated these days, and it’s so exciting that this club chose to take advice from Wimbledon.
“The WSTC lawns will become the envy of every tradition-loving club and player,” Wade added. “And for those lucky enough to play on them, it will be a blissful experience.”
“My favorite surface in the whole world is grass,” said Rennae Stubbs, a legendary Australian tennis player, coach, and Racquet Magazine podcast host. “It was the first time I ever played here, and it was great to be part of opening the courts for the first time this year. You just have to look around to know you’re in a historic tennis club.”
After WSTC relocated from the Bronx to Forest Hills in 1913, grass was laid for seven courts. The following August, a Davis Cup match would attract an audience of over 12,000, transforming tennis.
The hallowed grounds are where legends like Bill Tilden, Bobby Riggs, Ken Rosewall, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert made their mark on the tennis world.
However, the courts were considered past their prime with spongy and bent grass. After Newport’s International Hall of Fame resurrected its turf venue, WSTC leadership was inspired to examine the feasibility of upgrading its grass courts.
The $650,000 project was designed by Tom Irwin Advisors and spearheaded by Ian Lacy, the former head of Great Britain’s Institute of Groundsmanship Professional Services.
Test pits were dug to evaluate layers of soil, and Lacy and his colleagues recommended a plan to replace the grass, upgrade the irrigation system, enhance the underlying dirt by adding a sand mixture for playability and durability, and regrade the courts.
The grass is a modern blend of three varieties of rye, the same kind used at Wimbledon, the Newport Hall of Fame, and London’s Queens Club.
“The new grass courts are much better, since the ball bounces higher and we can rally and really enjoy it,” said longtime club member Juan Reyes. “Before the ball would hardly bounce.”
The upgrades included Wimbledon-style wooden tennis posts with brass winder mechanisms and “West Side Tennis Club” etchings.
“This is one of the most revered sites, as it was the first home of the U.S. Open,” said Frank Milillo, a pickleball ambassador. “The courts have always been top notch, and it’s exciting to see how well the club improved it with a new lawn. This is where the sport grew, and now it’s coming back to its roots.”

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