A little bit of Forest Hills history that was thought to be lost has been found, and the West Side Tennis Club, with an impressive history of its own, is working to preserve it.
Area historian Michael Perlman noted the old Forest Hills Inn on Continental Avenue would put up luminaries from show business and sports, particularly tennis.
Beginning on the mid-1950s, celebrities would be asked to leave their signatures and handprints in some wet concrete. The blocks then were placed into a walk of fame.
“It was based on Grauman’s Chinese Theater [in Los Angeles],” Perlman said. “Sometime in the 1970s or ’80s the walk was dismantled and the slabs were removed.”
Perlman began searching for them in 2015, and in 2017, with the help of the tennis club, put together a search committee.
The tennis club already had come into possession of one slab of great significance to its own history — a single block signed by Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert and Manolo Santana, all of whom won championships in singles or doubles on the grass courts at Forest Hills as amateurs before the U. S. Championship Tournament opened to professionals in 1968.
Perlman said the first place they looked was in the catacomb-like basement beneath the inn, which now is an apartment building.
“We were told they might be there,” he said. But the digging and networking finally paid off this year when a handful were discovered in the garage of a Forest Hills resident.
The blocks were signed by comic and actor Buddy Hackett; tennis star John Newcombe; Grammy and Tony-winning musician Herb Alpert; singer Trini Lopez; and actor and Oscar-winning director Woody Allen.
“I was completely astonished,” Perlman admitted about seeing the blocks for the first time.
Newcombe made history himself at the West Side Tennis Club, winning U.S. men’s singles championships in both the amateur and Open eras. He also won three U.S. doubles titles and a mixed-doubles championship there.
A spokesperson for the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI, said none of their experts were available to comment because of the holiday week, but thought the blocks could represent a fantastic find.
Perlman declined to disclose from whom the blocks were obtained.
“We’re still trying to find the others,” explaining there could be between 15 and 20 still out there.
“I’d like to find Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand,” said Perlman of the show business legends. They, like other celebrities, obliged the inn’s former owners, but in a slightly different way, as one might say befits megastars.
“They signed the blocks remotely and sent them to the inn,” he said.
One of the undiscovered slabs is believed to have been signed by Arthur Ashe, who won his first Grand Slam title at Forest Hills the first year of Open competition in 1968.