International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum
Newport Casino – Newport, Rhode Island
Article by: The New England Blogger
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is an organization that honors the greatest players and contributors of the game. It features a museum, grass tennis courts, an indoor tennis facility and court tennis. It is one of the largest and finest tennis museums in the world. It was first opened in July 26, 1880.
It was designated a National Historic Landmark on February 27th, 1987.
Located at the Newport Casino and commissioned in 1880 by James Gordon Bennett, Jr.exclusively for the rich and wealthy. James Gordon Bennett, Jr. was the most influential publisher of America’s leading newspaper, The New York Herald which was founded by his father James Gordon Bennett, Sr. who migrated from Scotland.
As the story goes… In August 1879, James Gordon Bennett and Captain Henry Augustus Candy a retired officer of the Queen’s 9th Royal Lancers and skillful British Polo player, were the two key figures in the origins of the Newport Casino. Bennett, as a summer resident, was a member of the Newport Reading Room, a gentlemen-only club, which was a gathering place for prominent Newporters. As Bennett’s guest, Captain Candy also enjoyed the benefits of Reading Room membership. Late one summer day, the two men were up for some amusing entertainment and Bennett presumably bet or dared Captain Candy to ride his polo horse up onto the front porch of the Reading Room. Candy, without hesitation, mounted his horse and rode onto the porch…and then proceeded into the club! Although Candy won the afternoon wager, club members expressed their displeasure at the insulting disruption. The Governors of the Reading Room were also not amused and revoked the guest privileges of Captain Candy. Bennett was not one to be chastised and tempers flared, all resulting in the end of Bennett’s Reading Room membership….Bennett’s loss was our gain, as Bennett turned his attention to building an establishment, a “new club house” to serve summer visitors that would be both public and private.
With Construction underway, the Newport Casino complex was built in only six months. On July 26th, a soft opening was held with guest admittance by invitation only. One week later, on August 2nd, the public was invited to inspect the premises and more than 3,000 attended. The Newport Casino offered a block of shops on Bellevue Avenue, a restaurant and gentlemen’s lodging. Archery, billiards, concerts, dancing, dining, horse shows, lawn bowling, reading, tea parties and theatricals, along with the staples of its present day offerings of lawn tennis, croquet, and court tennis, were all part of the social scene. Writing three days after the opening, the Newport Newsboasted, “It is doubtful if a more lively place can be found.” It is important to note that in early 19th century the term ‘casino’ was never a public gambling establishment but a small villa built for pleasure to include building where social activities took place.
By the 1950’s the retreat was struggling financially and in danger of being demolished for retail space. TENNIS SAVED IT! The United States Lawn Tennis Association held there 1st Championship their in 1881 and was held there through 1914. This latter became known as the U.S. Open!
The first half of the 20th century was unkind to Newport Casino…as the Gilded Age grew to a close and the onset of the Great Depression, Newport fell by the wayside as a summer resort for the wealthy and powerful. The casino struggled financially as a social club right from the start and like many of the mansions there was the very real possibility that it would be demolished for retail space.
In 1954, with the great tennis history behind him James Henry Van Alen stepped in andestablished Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in the casino. The combination of prominent headliners at the tennis matches and the museum allowed the building to be saved. Today it still stands as finest example of Victorian Shingle Style Architecture in the world. In 1957, Van Alen was elected the museum’s 1st President.
Today the museum encompasses more than 20,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, momentous videos and popular memorabilia of tennis champions past and present.
The museum permanent collection contains more than 16,000 items. The library and Information Center has upwards of 5,000 books, more than 4,000 tapes and films and more than 300,000 photos and images and an abundant collection of magazines, programs, periodicals, posters and more.