On Sunday afternoon, April 9, 1905, River Forest residents Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Lozier, Mr. Montgomery Picket, and Mr. George Turner met with Mr. and Mrs. Harry Richardson, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Treadway, and Mr. Farlin Ball of Oak Park, in the Richardson home on Wisconsin Avenue to discuss the feasibility of organizing a club that would be both social and athletic in nature. At the time, Oak Park had a population of around 15,000, while River Forest had about 2,400 residents. The elevation of the Northwestern tracks through the villages would not start for four years.
Mr. Pickett acted as Chairman, and following a brief discussion, a temporary organization was effected with Harry Richardson as President, Monty Pickett as Vice President, George Turner as Secretary-Treasurer, and Farlin Ball, Dick Herrick, Lew Lozier, and Ralph Treadway as Directors.
This group, with their wives, constituted the original (and only) Membership Committee. A list of candidates was compiled and within a week the first fifty persons who were approached signified their eagerness to join.
A meeting was held at the Oak Park Club (then located at North Boulevard and Park Place, now Forest Avenue) on May 16 of that year. Nearly everyone who had expressed interest in the club was present and the temporary organization was made permanent. The selection of Officers and Directors was ratified, committees on by-laws and the clubhouse were appointed and the Secretary was authorized to apply for incorporation papers and a charter.
The grounds at Lake, Harlem, Quick and Bonnie Brae had previously been used by the River Forest Golf Club. Mr. E. A. Cummings, who controlled the land, generously offered the free use of the north half to the new organization for as long as he retained control. This location prompted the name of our organization.
Six grass courts were laid out and chicken-wire backstops erected. No tennis was played on Sundays. Negotiations to purchase the abandoned golf clubhouse were not successful and wreckers were demolishing the structure when our grand opening occurred under the big oaks on Memorial Day. In its place, our first clubhouse, a very unpretentious structure, was erected at a cost of $1,100. It was formally opened on the Fourth of July of that same eventful year, 1905. Albert L. Goetzman was Chairman of the Building Committee and was largely responsible for the completion of the original clubhouse only two months after the Club was organized.
The first clubhouse was destroyed by fire in August, 1906. It was replaced the following month by what is now the west two-thirds of our present clubhouse. It was rushed to completion under the creative supervision of Frank Lloyd Wright, at a cost of $2,629.75. On the day this building was to open, Mr. Wright evidently concluded that the assembly room appeared long, narrow and low. The painters had not yet removed their equipment, and with one of their brushes, he applied colored squares on the cross beams which then ran the full length of the room, thereby increasing the appearance of the height and width and reducing the length. Oil paintings of Club activities were completed by Louis Sharp and placed over the three fireplaces. There was no permanent stage, with the table tops serving a dual purpose. The enlarged kitchen facilities increased the popularity of the picnic suppers, which from the very first were prepare by the ladies, but served by the men. Sugar and salt were furnished by the Club, but coffee was five cents per cup. Home talent shows soon became frequent and popular, the ring leaders being Lew Lozier, Harry Noyes, Bert Kerr, and Elias Day.
For fifteen years we were privileged to occupy these grounds at a nominal rent of one dollar a year. When the tract was acquired by Cook County Forest Preserve Commission, it became a question of whether The River Forest Tennis Club should surrender its charter and cease to exist, or seek a home elsewhere. The members were unanimous in feeling that so vigorous and vital an organization should not be abandoned.
The block we now occupy was then vacant, and negotiations with Mr. Edward C. Walker for its purchase at $40 per foot, or $34,800, were completed on January 1, 1920. A bond issue of $50,000 was authorized and the needed $35,000 was quickly subscribed by the members. The last of these bonds was retired in 1941.
Some consideration was given to a new clubhouse, but the members had become too attached to the old one, so it was sawed into three sections which were trundled to their new foundation five blocks away, without delay or mishap. The floor near the end fireplaces still shows where it was sawed. Under the supervision of architect Vernon Watson, then a member of the Club, the width of the building was increased by one half and a permanent stage was installed. Ten fine clay courts were constructed and the grounds were beautified with trees and shrubs. What then seemed like ample parking space was provided. The whole block was enclosed by a substantial wire fence. The location of the clubhouse, courts and parking space represent the majority view of the 1920 Officers and Directors, the previous Presidents, and their wives. Consideration was given to two grass courts and a swimming pool at the east end of the laws, but they were deferred. One of the two elm trees which stood by the lawn in front of the clubhouse for many years was then a small tree which was moved to its new location to make way for the building. The embargo against Sunday tennis was lifted, but that did not discourage the Presbyterians from building across the street the following year. The flag pole was erected in 1921 by the other past Presidents as a memorial to Bert Kerr.
Applications for membership have always exceeded the capacity of our Club. In 1905, more than a hundred applied, but it had been deemed advisable to limit the membership to 80. Therefore, the first 80 men, together with their wives or one other woman member of the family, were enrolled as charter members of the club. In 1911 the limit was raised to 90, in 1912 to 100, and in 1917 to 125. With the acquisition of our present property in 1920 and the urgent need for a much larger income, the limit was increased to 175. The fifty additional members were elected from more than a hundred pending applications.
The Membership Share was established in 1920. Thereto the women members also voted, but thereafter, the vote was confined to the shareholders. The limit for Active members was further increased to 180 in 1950, to 185 in 1951, to 190 in 1952, to 200 in 1953 and then to 225. The Tennis Privilege Holder membership was instituted in 1913. In 1941 the Senior Patron membership was established for active members of 25 years or more. The Junior Active membership was instituted in 1934.
In 1934 the full length and well-used porch railing gave way to the terrace with the result that much greater use is made of the lawn. Prior to 1934, the only entrance to the clubhouse from the east was by the steps at each end of the porch. In 1937 a modest swimming pool was constructed, and was replaced in 1955 by a new and much larger pool. A considerable portion of both the social and athletic activities of the Club now center on the pool. In 1963 the clay courts were replaced by all-weather Har-Tru courts, so we are now able to play tennis within a few hours of even the hardest rainstorm.
The year 1968 brought additions to the clubhouse with expanded facilities for the Manager’s office, locker rooms, canteen and pro shop. A well was installed on the Club grounds in 1970, thereby allowing water for the courts and other use at much improved water pressure levels. Larger pipes and improved sprinkler heads were installed that same year to provide a highly efficient and superior sprinkling system. Metal hoods were installed over the fireplaces at each end of the clubhouse in 1971, and a Social Hour preceding most dinners was introduced with great success. In 1972 a new bark-colored roof was placed on the clubhouse and the Century of Progress lights from 1933 were replaced on the lawn.
Tournaments and Championships
In 1935 the United States Lawn Tennis Association awarded the National Clay Court Championships to The River Forest Tennis Club. Until 1966, this tournament was virtually an annual event at the Club. In that year new criteria were established by the USLTA, resulting in the tournament being moved to another club, thus ending 30 years of World-Championship tennis at our Club.
In Junior Tennis, our Club has held the most prestigious tournament in the greater Chicagoland area, the River Forest Junior Invitational Tournament, a tournament nationally sanctioned by the USTA. Over the years, this event has hosted many of the most outstanding players in the game. An Award for Achievement, for development of tennis at large and service to The River Forest Tennis Club, was given in 1946 through 1958 to Chester C. Johnson, Arthur R. Kaiser, Ralph Wescott, Walter T. Ritter, George E. Barnes, and jointly to Fred W. and Florence Wittleder.
In 1975, the pool fee was eliminated and the 1966 mortgage was paid in full. The nation’s bi-centennial year was dedicated with ceramic photos of the past Presidents of the Club. The Junior Tournament, which had been held for many years, was discontinued in 1980. The Girls 18 National Clay Courts Championships was started in 1983 and continued through 1989.
1988 was the year to do something about the old poolhouse at the north end of the pool. A contract was approved for $225,900 to build a new poolhouse along the east side of the pool with a Court Building, a Filter Building, new locker rooms and a wading pool; all in the Frank Lloyd Wright style. It was a long summer until all was completed in 1989.
From 1905 to 1919, dues were $15, which met the needs of the Club. By 2008, the base Active member dues had increased to $1,700, the Capital Improvement Fee became $450, and the Transfer Fee for new members became $2,500 payable over four years. Active membership remains at 225, though many others enjoy the Club in other membership categories. Member By-laws changes have altered the structure of the Club and Board of Director decisions have changed the traditional tennis and swimming activities as well as the social life. In our changing society, with many of the wives of members being career people, Ladies Day, Midweek Dinners, Picnic Suppers, and every Saturday night being a Club Dinner has varied. A Mid-Winter Dinner Dance in February was started in 1973 and is becoming a tradition. Family events for Memorial Day and Fourth of July are very popular. The By-laws have been refined to reflect the increased role of women in Club activities. A By-law change in 1992 provided a woman may be a joint tenant with the husband in Club Member ownership, be an Active member with voting privileges and be an Officer of the Club. A Town Meeting in 1992 contained a presentation by a Board Committee with an idea to change the Historic House and decrease land area. Questions were raised including need, facilities, financing, and long range view. The President asked members present to indicate interest in the proposed plans and to write opinions to the Board. The consensus was against the plan and resulted in the Board’s decision to drop the idea and to continue in our traditional Frank Lloyd Wright clubhouse, which has served our membership (with modifications) since 1906.
With the new millennium came some significant changes and modern updates to the Club. Air-conditioning was added to the clubhouse. A new and larger stainless steel pool was installed to replace the one from 1955. Wine and beer made its debut at three of the club dinners. In 2001, the first woman was elected to serve as President of the club. In 2003, all ten tennis courts were upgraded to a state-of-the-art Hydrocourt system, providing members with continuously hydrated Har-Tru courts that are always ready for play. The Club continues to be run by a Board of four Officers and three Directors with the Vice President serving as the President-designate and a Director as the Treasurer-designate; thus affording more continuity on the Board. It is still a great Club, with all of the changes throughout its history, because of the traditional values of tennis and swimming enjoyed by families. The operation of the Club is handled by a minimum of paid staff, but accomplished by working members on committees for every function. The willingness to work and to share in the fellowship of the Club where no one ever says “NO!” is what has kept The River Forest Tennis Club the great Club it has always been.
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Tradition is still the keyword and changes should
be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.