NEWPORT BEACH — Ken Stuart, who has owned the small but successful Palisades Tennis Club in Costa Mesa, has signed a contract to buy the John Wayne Tennis Club in Newport Beach for $1.4 million.
Stuart said the name will be changed to Palisades Tennis Club when he takes over Aug. 1. The old Palisades Club will be closed and memberships there will be transferred to his new club.
The John Wayne Club was developed by the late movie star and Ken Willig in 1974 at a reported cost of $2.5 million.
Stuart was general manager, head pro and tennis director at the club from 1974 through 1978 before he left to take a job in sales with a friend's business.
"A lot of thinking has gone into the name change," Stuart said Monday. "I was a friend of Wayne's when I was the general manager there, and we mean no disrespect to his memory or to his family with the name change, but we felt it was important for the club to have a totally fresh start."
Stuart said the John Wayne Club has been making a yearly payment to the Wayne estate for continued use of the name. He called the figure "substantial."
Stuart said he decided the money could be used to provide additional service to the members.
Stuart said he will take over the existing bank loan from its most recent owner, Cecil Spearman, who also owns the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club.
Stuart said an arrangement has been made with Spearman for the equity he holds in the club. Stuart becomes the facility's fifth owner.
The John Wayne Club has 16 lighted courts and a 10,000-foot clubhouse with locker rooms, a lounge and bar. It has been troubled by a dwindling membership in recent years. Stuart said the current membership is about 300, compared to more than 700 during the time he was general manager in the 1970s.
The Palisades Club, which Stuart opened in 1992, was limited to 150 members because it has only five courts and no lights. But it has had a waiting list for memberships since shortly after opening.
The Palisades Club became known for attracting high-level players, and its members included pro tour players Rick and Jon Leach, Lindsay Davenport and Debbie Allen.
Stuart said his head pro, Robert Van't Hof, formerly ranked among the top 50 in the world in singles and as high as No. 25 in doubles, will move with him to the new club.
Stuart said one of the biggest problems at the John Wayne Club has been a lack of parking space. "I think I've been able to resurrect a relationship with the Hyatt Newporter Hotel, which would help from that standpoint," Stuart said.
Stuart said he eventually would like to bring some top events to the club's stadium court and mentioned an International Federation Cup match as a possibility.