Courtliness on the Court Has Served Pasadena Tennis Pro Well for 70 Years

October 31, 1985|MARY BARBER

Walter Wesbrook tipped his cap, smiled at his opponents and assumed a proper stance, as befits one who has never differentiated between tennis and gallantry.

He delivered mean whacks with affable grace, complimented opponents on shots he missed and otherwise established that tennis is still the gentleman's game it was when he started 70 years ago.

It was another routine day for the 87-year-old who never considered any life other than tennis, and won't consider stopping now.

Wesbrook is legendary in Pasadena, like the 79-year-old Huntington Sheraton hotel he outlived but where he still holds court, like the days when greats such as Bill Tilden and Don Budge played exhibition games there.

"I know he beat Tilden right here. I was 2 years old at the time," said Gene Ober, who at 61 is a regular at the Huntington courts and one-time Wesbrook student.

"He's the epitome of what tennis used to be all about--a gentleman always and a sportsman always," Ober said. "He's a lot better example for young people to follow than the pros you see nowadays. And here he is 87 and running around like a squirrel."

For 60 years Wesbrook was a pro at the Huntington hotel. In 1983, the hotel decided to sell the property at its southern tip, including the two tennis courts that the management said were "operating at a significant loss." But there were no buyers so Wesbrook took over the courts, leasing them for $200 a month and charging players a small daily fee. He said he still occasionally gives lessons for $30.

The Huntington's main building, started in 1906 and completed several years later, was closed earlier this month when its owners learned that it could not withstand a major earthquake. Wesbrook, who was born eight years before construction of the building began, witnessed the solemn, nostalgic closing ceremony and then went back to the courts the next day for business as usual.

"Tennis has always been my whole life," he said. He became acquainted with the sport at 17 when he was a student in a Detroit high school, and became a Big 10 tennis champion and a world-class pole vaulter at the University of Michigan.

"In those days I shouldn't have been playing tennis, but I was crazy about it," and never stopped, he said.

In 1924, shortly after moving to Southern California, Wesbrook teamed with Harvey Snodgrass to beat Tilden and Vincent Richards. A Times writer at that time said Wesbrook's services "fairly burnt holes in the cement." In later years, he taught tennis at the Midwick Country Club, which later became part of Monterey Park, and in several Pasadena-area schools and clubs.

A widower who lives in Arcadia, he said he maintains a steady weight of 135, has never been sick, sleeps well and loves to garden and work with his hands.

"I've been eating Shredded Wheat since I was 14 years old," Wesbrook said in an effort to explain his energy and the activity that would exhaust people half his age. "No pills. I got vitamins on the table but I won't touch them. Hate to swallow the crazy things."

Sighting one of his steady playing partners, Wesbrook said, "There's someone who's 77 years old and now he's trying to teach me."

He headed to the courts to set things straight.

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