To tennis aficionados, Los Angeles Tennis Club is a well-loved, unpretentious dowager among buildings--a legendary hostess to major tennis events where luminaries of the sport worldwide have met, mingled and showcased the best of their collective talents.
LATC was born on the spot it now stands and has never budged from its 5851 Clinton St. address in almost seven decades.
Quite a remarkable achievement when you think of the enormous changes in real estate ownership that have occurred in the vicinity of that sporty Hancock Park landmark.
The club, we learned from realtor Ed Carroll, columnist for the club's activities and world-class tennis umpire, was already in existence when Vine Street below Hollywood Boulevard was little more than a passable roadway lined with pepper trees and Melrose Avenue was an unpaved cow path.
With the help of realtor G. Allan Hancock, a farsighted little group of tennis players took an option on 5 1/2 acres to start a club and paid $1,000 for the land in 1920.
Three years later, a little more than an acre of that parcel fronting Melrose, now occupied by a row of apartment houses, was sold off for $70,000.
LATC was incorporated on Nov. 1, 1920, as a nonprofit organization with 50 charter members, many of whom had already distinguished themselves in the sport in Southern California.
As tennis became more popular, so did the need to expand LATC. By the mid-'20s, the architectural firm of Hunt & Burns was commissioned to design a clubhouse in the Spanish style with wrought-iron accents, hardwood floors and a fireplace at each end of the main lounge. After the first two exhibition courts were built, 15 more were added to the tennis complex.
In 1927 a set of lights, donated for the center court by president emeritus Thomas C. Bundy, was given a grand debut when Bill Tilden and his U. S. Davis Cup teammates played an exhibition match and treated the crowded stands to the first night tennis in Los Angeles.
That center court is rich with memories of past champions. To name a few: Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Fred Perry, Pancho Gonzalez, Jimmy Conners and a stellar group of women: May Sutton Bundy (who was still playing at 85), and the perennials, Louise Brough, Alice Marble, Helen Jacobs, Billie Jean King and Tracy Austin, to name a few.
LATC's proximity to major Hollywood studios attracted a coterie of movie stars who flocked to LATC over the years to watch the Southern California and Pacific Southwest Open (elevated to worldwide prominence by Perry T. Jones).
Familiar faces included Marlene Dietrich in her black tuxedo, Jean Harlow in glamorous bias-cut white satin pajamas and Joan Bennett, who was so enamored of the game that once, while recuperating from a broken hip, she hired an ambulance to bring her daily to the championship matches.
Regular players at LATC included William Powell, Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby.
Many are now gone but the the stately dowager is very much alive and well and still living on Clinton Street.