May 23, 2012

Public Clubs Once Ruled New York

Will Gens' piece on the state of New York squash is a reminder of how exciting it was to be a player in Manhattan in the late 70s and early 80s, when public clubs were exploding on the scene.

First, you had the granddaddy of them all, the Fifth Avenue Racquet Club, at 37th and 5th, with 7 courts.

Next was The Uptown Racquet Club on East 86th Street, the site of numerous memorable events and near non-stop action. Uptown had 14 courts and was truly the place to be.

Then there was Broad Street, at the bottom of the island, new and sleek and boasting 10 courts.

You had the Manhattan Squash Club on 42nd Street, upstairs overlooking Bryant Park. Manhattan had 10 courts.

Lincoln arrived on the scene on the west side, with 8 courts.

Park Avenue popped up on East 34th Street with 10 courts.

Then you had the Doral Inn on Lexington with 3 courts, Park Place near City Hall with 3 courts, and First Avenue on the east side with 3 courts.

That is 68 courts, just at the public clubs!

You had the top pros training at the public clubs, celebrities were running around, and the clubs hosted major events such as the North American Open.

The announcement that the final Lincoln courts are being converted to fitness studios just about closes the door on an era in Manhattan, but any player who lived through it won't forget it.



  1. Anonymous1:36 AM

    What Will Gens says is much true, except that a great many juniors DO go on to play in college, it's just that the average useful junior is not recruited at Trinity or Princeton . this is the fine hand of Adam Smith at work. First Printing House squash implodes, now Lincoln or whatever they call it now.

    US Squash is correct in saying that junior and collegiate play is thriving ,but at the adult level, it's not. Doubles is massively popular, but just take a look at the Hyder from 1988, and the Hyder today. It's 25% of what it was.

    Good coaching does help a great deal in the development of a junior, but there are still kids who get to be great the old fashioned way- hanging around their clubs, playing with everybody, and taking clinics, playing in tournaments, and the occasional lesson. My son is a perfect example. Of course now he refuses to play singles because he massively prefers squash doubles, court tennis and racquets, but at least he had a great collegiate experience, can play singles very well, and that exposure got him to where he is today, which is playing the games for LOVE.

  2. Anonymous1:39 AM

    From NY Squash:

    In recent years three new courts got built at Poly Prep, four at CityView, two at LA Fitness, eight at StreetSquash, four at Fordham and three at Saw Mill.

  3. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Nice piece Ted, cannot believe there used to be so many courts in the city, assume those were all the narrow hardball courts.

    Per the NY Squash website at
    the number of public singles softball courts (where anyone can pay a fee and play) in NYC will soon be 5 in Manhattan (HRC and 86th street NYSC), 6 in Brooklyn Heights (EAC and NYSC), and 3 in Long Island City, Queens (Cityview). That is 14 courts in all of the city, and only 4 of which are in Manhattan.

    A large new club downtown Manhattan could doubles the number of publicly available courts in the City. But, the biggest concern in the short term is whether NYSC will get out of squash completely. If they close the remainder of their courts then we will be left with one public court at HRC at the southernmost tip of the island. A sad situation indeed. I kind of agree with Will.

  4. Anonymous10:33 AM

    to clarify re the courts in manhattan, there are five 'public' softball singles courts, but the one at Health and Racquet club downtown is a converted court and is not the correct dimensions unfortuantely (it is still too narrow i beleive). so really there are only four courst in manhattan..!

    also - 'public' means if you show up with money they will let you in to play. as opposed to a private club for which you require an invitation to enter the club each time as a guest.

  5. Anonymous10:46 AM

    Getting the number of public sports facilities right is hard. Memphis has too many baseball diamonds and tennis courts, and it remains to be seen whether demand will justify the new skate park and bike lanes. In Memphis racquetball in the Seventies and early Eighties, there was something similar to the squash explosion you describe.

  6. Doesn't some of this have to do with the switch to softball? It sounds like everything was better attended in the 1970s and 80s when hardball was still the game of choice in the United States. The US Nationals had far more participants than it does today, but overall less people play softball because less people have access to it. Public clubs did not spend the money to convert their courts to softball, and when hardball died those court spaces became obsolete. The private clubs, which are not necessarily profit driven, converted their courts. I am an avid doubles player, and one of the things that we are struggling with, is how to bring the game to the masses, since there is only one public doubles court in the five boroughs (out of six doubles courts total, two of which women, like myself, can't even play on.)

  7. Ted Gross12:28 PM

    Anonymous, of the 68 public club courts in Manhattan in the heyday, 4 were softball courts.

    Uptown had 2, Broad Street had 1, and Park Place had 1.

    That was it, and that may have been the total number of softball courts in the entire United States at that point.

  8. Anonymous1:57 PM

    thanks Ted, that too is good info. so sometime in the 80s at the height of the hardball singles game there were 4 'public' softball courts in manhattan. and ironically, today, in an era when the hardball version of the singles (not doubles) game is all but extinct, there are still only 4 singles courts in manhattan where anyone can pay a fee and play squash..(!)

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  10. Ted, it truly was a great time, even though I converted to softball partly in the 80's and fulltime in the early 90's imagine Jahangir Khan played at 86th street, routinely you could watch Tom Page at 86th or Manahattan Squash, and Park Place the first softball court in the US was right here...NYSC has sytematically closed most of its courts, Doral, 5th Avenue, Concorde on 1st Avenue and now Lincoln... early softballers played on the narrow courts and there were many softball tournaments on narrow courts. I'm glad someone checked the Hyder from years back...I seem to remember playing in a draw that had 64 entrants so they split it into draw A and draw B and the winner of each played each other. And in any of this discussion no one has really included the virtual disappearance of post college adult women playing. It was always great coming up when you could play A or B level women players...but to me the biggest concern is when you teach this great game for the purpose of helping you get into college are you doing this game justice are you promoting this game for future players of all ages? Of the nearly 1000 CSA players (if I have that number right) ranked and listed how many of those play 3 years past college graduation?
    And finally, squash courts need to be viewed in the same way yoga studios, aerobic classes, etc STOP CHARGING COURT FEES!!!!! That member money is better spent towards paying for coaching -- why clubs charge membership dues and court fees...LA Fitness is one of the few that doesn't.

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  12. Anonymous12:25 PM

    It's not called "LA Fitness". It's the Sports Club/LA. Different company.

  13. Anonymous12:20 AM

    And now 86th st. and Cobble Hill are slated for demolition...

  14. NYSC 86th Street closed January 15, 2016. As of today, February 10, 2016, Cobble Hill is still functioning.

    NYU Coles Sports Center is about to be torn down too, taking its six hardball courts with it.

  15. Loved the scene from from Woody Allen's 79' Movie Manhattan at "The Uptown Racquet Club" !