When the Racquet Center opened, Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe were vying with wooden racquets for the Wimbledon title and the phrase "aerobic workout" had barely entered the country's vocabulary.
Now, 22 years later, amateur athletes are more interested in soaring like Michael Jordan and swinging like Tiger Woods. As a result, the center's owners are hoping to bulldoze the building at Ventura Boulevard and Vineland Avenue and create a shopping center that would include a 55,000-square-foot Ralphs supermarket.
They are negotiating with other retail chains, including a drugstore and restaurant.
"Racquetball and tennis are on the wane," said owner Tom Von Der Ahe. "Sports need heroes to sustain themselves, and [pro tennis star] Pete Sampras has no personality. He's a great player, but he's not a Tiger Woods."
Members of the Studio City Residents Assn. have held several meetings to galvanize opposition to the shopping center plan. The first in a series of city hearings on the proposal is scheduled for Monday.
Residents worry about the impact on traffic and the replacement of a uniquely public, pay-to-play sports facility with an anonymous strip mall serving residents of the hills, according to Tony Lucente, association president.
Von Der Ahe does not put a lot of stock in those complaints.
"What have Studio City residents ever been for?" asked the developer, himself a Studio City resident. "They wouldn't have a place to live if all the projects they have opposed had not gone through. I'm trying to do something really nice."
Traffic concerns should be allayed by the design, Von Der Ahe said. "This is not a regional shopping center; it's a community shopping center. It won't be drawing people from all over. It will serve a one- to two-mile radius."
But Lucente expressed puzzlement at the logic of putting a new Ralphs near an existing one at Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards.
"Perhaps this community can support two Ralphs, but I really don't know," he said.
The site is not new to controversy. Several years ago, residents successfully blocked an attempt by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to turn the space into a subway parking lot.