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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

After Today, Racquet Centre Will Be Silenced

October 04, 1998|LAUREN PETERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Racquet Centre of Universal City, the hub of tennis activity in the San Fernando Valley for the last 20 years, will open and close its doors for the last time today.

The facility will be shut down for good at 6 tonight. It is scheduled for demolition by the end of the month in order to make way for the construction of a shopping center that is scheduled to open in November 1999.

"I'm just sad for everyone," said Naomi Bradford, director and general manager of the Racquet Centre. "This is a huge loss for the tennis community."

Business at the tennis center has declined steadily and has dropped an estimated 75% from its peak in the late 1980s, said Tom Von Der Ahe, managing partner of VDA Property Co., which owns the land the facility is built on.

"If this thing was [attracting business] the way it was meant to, we wouldn't be doing this," Von Der Ahe said. "But the public was not supporting it."

In its heyday, the facility operated at near capacity from the time it opened at 6 a.m. to midnight each day.

But in the last three years, occupancy has dropped to about 50% during the day and 75% at night.

"No one likes to see a sports facility where everyone has fun close down, but it was probably inevitable," said Bradford, who has worked at the club since 1979 and took over as director and general manager in 1989. "It's economics."

Several tournaments and teams will be displaced by the closing.

The K-Swiss Master tournament for junior players and several annual SCTA open sectional tournaments will be relocated to places such as the Claremont Club and the Racquet Centre of South Pasadena.

"I understand that they need a market in that area, but doggone it, why did it have to be there?" said Annette Buck, director of adult and senior tennis for the Southern California Tennis Assn.

Notre Dame High's girls' tennis team has played home matches at the Racquet Centre this year, and Campbell Hall, Buckley and Harvard-Westlake highs were mainstays in recent years, until word first leaked of the impending closure.

The high school teams have been forced to move home matches to Studio City Golf and Tennis, Valley College or on-campus courts.

"The Racquet Centre was a nice place to play, but we didn't know what was going to happen," said Campbell Hall girls' Coach Ben Harvey, whose team began playing home matches at Valley this season. "I started looking around. We needed to make sure we had a place to play."

Also displaced will be the semifinal and final rounds of the City Section girls' and boys' team playoffs and the City individual tournaments. Team playoffs will take place at Tennis L.A. in Los Angeles and the individual tournaments will be at L.A. Fitness-Warner Center in Woodland Hills.

Racquet Centre employees are directing patrons to other tennis centers in the region and to public courts operated by the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks.

But none of those facilities will be the same to Racquet Centre regulars.

"We're unique," Bradford said. "It has all the features of a private club, and it's for the public. It'll be missed."

As part of a weekend-long send-off, patrons won't need reservations and will play free today.

Bill Rombeau, director and general manager when the center opened on Feb. 25, 1978, plans to be there.

"It's sad that it's closing, but I'm going to be there so I can say I was there on the first day and on the last day," he said.

"It was a great center. Tennis was better off because that center was built."

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