YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Burbank Unveils Courts of Appeal

Renovation: Full tennis complex, with two clay surfaces, is the centerpiece of $4-million, four-year update at 17-acre site.


A year ago, rundown facilities and loitering gangs at Burbank's McCambridge Park turned residents away. But after today, officials expect people throughout the region to flock to the manicured, newly renovated park and the area's premier public tennis center.

The city has spent $4 million and four years transforming the 17-acre park into a state-of-the-art facility with just about anything a park visitor could want: two refurbished baseball diamonds, boccie courts, a basketball court, two playgrounds, landscaped picnic area and the Burbank Tennis Center. It will hold a public dedication ceremony at 11:30 a.m. today, then open for business.

The highlight element of the complex is the $1.1-million tennis center, with 10 concrete courts, a sunken championship court with seating for 300 spectators and two clay courts. An outdated multipurpose building has been converted into a training room, cafe and tennis pro shop.

"I think it will enable Burbank and the Valley to make more of a statement in the tennis world," said Mark Winters, who produces a newsletter for the Southern California Tennis Assn.

The center's clay courts, a novelty in Southern California but requested by local players, will draw people from all over the region, Winters said. Of the 4,685 courts registered with the SCTA, only 28 are clay, Winters said.

"Other than private ownerships, there really aren't clay court facilities around," Winters said. He did not know of any other public clay courts in Los Angeles.

Clay courts are popular in the East but are rare in Southern California and other dry regions because they need a good deal of moisture for maintenance.

The Burbank courts are open to the public, but there are fees--up to $7 an hour per court for prime-time use.

Steve Starleaf, the center's executive director and a driving force behind its creation, said that although the complex will draw tennis enthusiasts from all over the region, its focus is to produce home-grown champions.

"We're trying to find the best athletes at the lowest levels and trying to get them into tennis," Starleaf said. "One of our goals is to have a champion out of Burbank."

Starleaf cited U.S. Open finalist Venus Williams as a role model for public tennis programs. Williams, who grew up in Compton, benefited from grass-roots programs similar to those Starleaf is planning for the center.

"She started with nothing and brought herself up," Starleaf said. "She is a great inspiration."

With the support of the Racket Doctor tennis shop, Starleaf will launch a program today in which children 5 to 10 get two hours of instruction and a new Wilson or Prince junior racket for $20. With the additional courts, Starleaf said he expects to get more children involved in tennis.

The clay courts cost the city $28,000 each, about $3,000 more than their concrete counterparts, said Patrick Hirsch, an architect at Heimberger, Hirsch and Associates. Hirsch designed the park renovation.

The city had to look out of state to find someone to build the clay courts. Welch Tennis Courts of St. Petersburg, Fla., was given the contract. The firm patented what it calls the Hydro-Grid clay court, which uses 3,600 linear feet of pipe below the surface of the two courts to irrigate the 80 tons of crushed green stone that went into their construction, said Kruse Smith, co-owner of the company.

On average, Smith said, the two courts will use 1,600 gallons of water each day. Heat causes the water below the surface to evaporate up through the clay to keep it moist.

Still, to keep the surface even, the clay must be brushed and rolled every day, Starleaf said.

City parks and recreation director Mary Alvord said residents suggested that the new facility include clay courts. Public comment was invited during the more than 20 meetings held to gather suggestions for the park's master plan since 1993, when the City Council approved the renovation.

"It wasn't a real pleasant park at all," Hirsch said, recalling the overgrown weeds, graffiti and discarded syringes that littered the grounds.

Alvord said community members pressed the city to provide a more user-friendly and safe park. Starleaf believes the city has succeeded.

While the park is open to anyone, "It looks more like a club than a public setting," he said.

Los Angeles Times Articles