The Golden State Warriors once had a popular mantra – “We Believe.”
Now Bay Area tennis enthusiasts are giving the old basketball slogan a new twist. With a sparkle in their eyes they say, “We Believed.” After all, tennis lovers are reveling in the emergence of a wonder – the gleaming, $27 million Lisa and Douglas Goldman Tennis Center at Golden Gate Park that will open on March 3. It’s something else. The 16-court center is proof that dreams can come true, miracles happen – even if it takes a little time. The Goldman Center has at last opened. In one of the world’s greatest parks, ancient trees seem to look on with approval. Workers have been gloating – their craftsmanship shines. Artists smile – their cutting-edge murals lend style. The value of tennis, Bay Area sports and public parks play will be celebrated. More than anything, the stunning new center has proven again the power of collaboration in our unique community.
Regular folks and weekend warriors had a vision. Initiatives were imagined, plans were made. Inevitably there were wrong turns and dead ends. The message of Stan Wawrinka’s famous Samuel Beckett tattoo – “Ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better,” – seemed to resonate. More than once the project came close to tumbling off the rails. But with steely determination, the Golden Gate Park community rallied. Three generations of missionaries stepped up. Their notable resilience propelled a hefty 12- year effort to renew a once glorious center. The place that traces its roots to two dirt courts created 127 years ago in 1894 was once a singular tennis source. Called “the cradle of champions,” Golden Gate Park produced America’s best player of the early 20th century – the net- rushing Maurice McLaughlin. On a back court, a pretty young Sunset District girl (whom baseball bosses told to put down her bat) picked up a racket and grooved her strokes on the park’s least appealing back court. Alice Marble went on to become the No. 1 player in the world (and perhaps a spy, for sure a glamorous Hollywood regular). Speaking of regulars, the tenacious pioneer extraordinaire Rosie Casals first excelled here. The Louie family, perhaps San Francisco’s most appealing clan, drew deserved attention. Here Wimbledon finalist Tom Brown commonly displayed his penetrating flat shots. Most importantly, as the sounds of hippie drums and flutes drifted in and out, generations of parkies gathered in joy.
But there was a problem. The grand old place began to show its age – its wrinkles deep, its courts sinking, cramped and inaccessible. The clubhouse was small, disheveled and less than appeal- ing. So more than a decade ago, an array of leaders began to step up. Plaques at the center honor the Goldmans and other early visionaries: Steve Brown, John Cervantes, Carol Chen, Loretta Conway, Larry Dodge, Martha Ehrenfeld, Julie Exley, Karen Kidwell, David Martini, Carl Mendoza, Lois Salisbury. Lisa and Douglas Goldman put in $6.5 mil- lion. Then Tad Taube stepped up. The most active tennis philanthropist in the West, who gave us the Taube Family Tennis Center at Stanford and has long backed EPATT and other projects, contributed $8.8 million. And San Francisco’s Rec and Park Department, headed by the tennis-friendly Phil Ginsburg, came on board with a full-throated commitment. Then in April 2019 parkies put down their rackets so workers could make their racket. The center’s usual sounds of whopping balls and grunting competitors were replaced by pounding jackhammers. Hundreds of blueprint-toting workers sporting hard hats swarmed all about. The place was dug up. Archaeological curiosities were discovered. A lean team reviewed all the details – an array of committees and commissioners had to be pleased. The impact of every court, pathway and bench was debated. Rain, a relentless pandemic and disrupted supply chains were defied. A stunning center with an airy sensibility and open sightlines took shape. It seemed to have it all: 16 impeccable lit tennis battle- grounds, plus a sunken stadium, Pickleball and mini-courts, a roomy learn- ing center for kids, a conference room, a lounge and a pro shop. All this will be managed by Dana Gill’s adept Lifetime Activities group.
Just a few lobs away from where the Summer of Love once captured the imagination of a generation, the Goldman Center is united by a compelling motto: “Love All.” An out- door mosaic celebrates Roger Federer, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe and Alice Marble. In- side, a provocative mural commands the eye. Its artistry impresses. Five panels celebrate the history of Bay Area tennis, the gritty glories of public park play and the importance of diversity. The center, that was home to the sport’s original Gay Open in 1981, may host a wide range of future events. Grandstands could easily be put in place. More to the point, what now is in place is an extraordinary center that will be relished by generations of parkies and tennis lovers, a jewel in the park that emerged out of a singular vision, a tire- less collaboration and a group that would not be denied. After all, as a veteran of the project says, “We Believed.” ‘WE BELIEVE’ Golden Gate Park’s Gleaming Tennis Center Opens A tradition revived: the center will bring a whole new energy to San Francisco tennis. JIM WATKINS What is in place is an extraordinary center that will be relished by generations, a jewel in the park that emerged out of the singular vision and tireless collaboration of a group that wouldn’t be denied.