Royal King’s Park Tennis Club
From unpretentious beginnings of two asphalt courts and a shed in 1899, the Royal Kings Park Tennis Club became the mecca for tennis in Western Australia and the venue for international-class sporting competitions, notable games and well-known sporting identities, just like the internationally famous lawn tennis clubs, Wimbledon in the U.K. and Forrest Hills in the U.S.
Originally called Perth Park, King’s Park was dedicated as a public park and recreation ground and a large area of the Park was set aside for sporting grounds. The first tennis courts in the Park were granted to the Mount Tennis and Bowling Club and formally opened in November 1899 by Sir John and Lady Forrest. At the time, the courts were the largest in Western Australia.
In 1902, the Club – which later changed its name to King Park Tennis Club then the Royal Kings Park Tennis Club – put down its first grass court and by 1908, more grass courts were installed to form the Exhibition Courts on which international matches could be played and in 1912 the first Davis Cup was played there against Britain. At this time the Club only admitted male members.
With the grass courts well established and more to come, including dedicated courts for the Ladies Auxiliary Club when female members were re-admitted to the Club in 1925, the facilities for the players and spectators also kept improving and growing. In 1914, a jarrah and tile Pavilion was built, followed by the iconic Members’ Stand and Pavilion in 1926, the design of which was reputed to have been inspired by the famous Buenos Aires racing grandstand and the famous Cecil Rhodes house “Grost Schuur” in Capetown. Another new grandstand was built in 1935 for the WA Lawn Tennis Association, which was based at the Kings Park Tennis Club, and designed to blend in with the attractive Cape Dutch styling of the existing Main Grandstand. Originally called the Association Stand it was later renamed the McGibbon Stand, after Sinclair McGibbon, who was President of the Association and affectionately known as the “Father of the Club”. In 1964, the 1914 Pavilion was demolished and the modern Eastman Building built, named after Eric Eastman who was one-time President of the Club.
In 1994, the new State Tennis Centre was officially launched on the Burswood Peninsula. However, the lawn courts at Kings Park were regarded as some of the finest in the southern hemisphere. The lawn courts and the architectural style of the grandstands are a rarity in this State, and combined represent the technological achievement in structural engineering, constructional and horticultural practices of a tennis stadium of international standard.
Originally called Perth Park, the land on top of Mount Eliza, now known as King’s Park, was dedicated as a public park and recreation ground and a large area of the Park was set aside for sporting grounds such as for tennis, bowling and croquet as well as the Perth High School (later Hale School) playing fields. The first tennis courts in the Park came about after a request from a group of residents in West Perth in 1898 who wanted to establish its own tennis club in their local area. Called the Mount Tennis and Bowling Club, the Club raised enough money to lay two asphalt tennis courts, and erect fencing and a shed. In front of around 300 invited guests, the humble tennis club was formally opened in November 1899 by Sir John and Lady Forrest with the Forrests given the honour of firing the first shot over the net, with Lady Forrest claiming victory. At the time, the courts were the largest in Western Australia, and it was the intention of the Club from the start to make the grounds artistic and beautiful. In 1900, the first “pavilion” was erected by the members which was little more than four posts and a hessian roof without a floor.
It wouldn’t be long before the need for more courts became pressing. Rather than install more asphalt courts, and to keep pace with the growth of lawn tennis and enable members to play in the many competitions, the first experimental grass court at the Club was laid in 1902. However, as the use and care of the new surface was still being developed, it had its limitations and could only be used for a few months of the year mainly over summer.
In 1903 a Men’s Club was formed and men were given exclusive use of the courts on Saturdays. The women who now felt excluded resigned en masse from the Club the following year. It would be many more years before female members were re-admitted even though some ladies continued to lend their support to the Club’s events, tournaments and fundraising. By 1906, the Club had two asphalt and two grass courts, and was renamed Kings Park Tennis Club. In 1908, more grass courts were installed to form the Exhibition Courts on which international matches could potentially be played. Works were supervised by Mr A. F. Pearse an engineer with the Public Works Department who provided his time to the Club in an honorary capacity. The new Exhibition Courts meant that the Club could go to the next level of competition, and in 1912 the first Davis Cup was played there against Britain.
With the grass courts well established, the focus now moved to improving facilities for the players and spectators. In 1914, a Pavilion was opened by Club President Arthur Abbett. The Queen Anne style building, designed by Pearse, featured a roof of Marseille tiles and jarrah walls, and comprised a dressing room, bathroom, kitchen, and a lounge opening onto a spacious verandah.
After the First World War, the courts to the north were further developed into what became known as “Siberia”. The four new grass courts, which included the converted original asphalt courts, were called Siberia because the hibiscus hedge that was planted to screen it meant that the players on these courts couldn’t be seen. The 1914 Pavilion was also enlarged and alterations made to plans prepared by Club member, Mr F. G. Wood (who would later serve on the committee including as President).
The 1920s would signify more major changes. While on a visit to Europe, the Club’s Captain, Sinclair J. McGibbon, visited many of the leading tennis clubs bringing back ideas with him. At the same time, the tennis playing women of Perth were looking for land for tennis courts and eventually turned to the Kings Park Tennis Club to oblige which it did. This would be the first time since the Men’s Club was established in 1903 that lady members were finally admitted to the Club and the Ladies Auxiliary Club was formed. In June 1925 a contract was let for the construction of the new ladies’ courts which were finished by October. The Club also engaged architect Eustace Gresley Cohen, partner of Eales and Cohen, originally to design a Ladies Club House overlooking their courts. However, plans were changed and expanded and Cohen ended up designing a new Members’ Stand and Pavilion with seating for over 500 overlooking the Exhibition Courts, and a lounge and restaurant area, while still providing dressing rooms for the ladies with access to their courts as well as a dressing room for the men. The new Stand was opened by Mayor of Perth Mr J T Franklin on 27 March 1926, and all the ladies were invited to bring their racquets for the games organised for the afternoon. A scoreboard was also introduced, similar to that used at Wimbledon. The 1914 Pavilion then became the Juniors’ dressing rooms.
With its prominent cantilevered tiled roof, decorative dark stained half-timbered work and facebrick, the Arts and Crafts style of the new Members’ Stand with its Cape Dutch touches was very characteristic of Cohen’s work. It was a style used around the world for sporting and resort buildings particularly in England – where Cohen was originally from – and France. At the time it was opened the Grandstand was reported as being modelled on the famous Buenos Aires racing grandstand, while the south side of the building was compared to the famous Cecil Rhodes house “Grost Schuur” in Capetown.
In 1928 the first international tennis match was played against France which put Kings Park Tennis Club in the history books. Around this time, a letter from the U.S. Lawn Association started circulating to lawn tennis associations around the world. The premise of the letter was to encourage all (English speaking) lawn tennis clubs to place an extract from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” at their main entrances as had been done at Wimbledon:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
In 1930, the Kings Park Tennis Club joined in this request, erecting its Kipling Arch at the main entry. (A line from Kipling – “Lest we forget” – also features on the War Memorial in Kings Park.)
The next main development was the building of a new grandstand in 1935 by the WA Lawn Tennis Association. At the time the Association, which was based at the Kings Park Tennis Club, paid a small annual fee to the Club to have access to courts for 3 days of the year and a larger fee for other occasions, but the seating in the Members’ Stand was only available to Club members. They approached the Club to have their own grandstand overlooking the Exhibition Courts so their members were able to see the best matches and players, especially the international competitions. After debate and negotiation, with some Club members not happy with the proposal, an agreement was finally reached, the one proviso made by the Club being that the new stand had to blend in with the existing one. Construction commenced in November 1934 with the contract awarded to Fremantle builder, Mr F. Rennie. The design, by architect J. H. O. Hargrave, was inspired by the Cape Dutch styling of the southern façade of Cohen’s Main Grandstand. It was built of brick and timber and the characteristic terracotta tiled cantilevered roof, and had a 700 seat capacity with refreshment and dressing rooms underneath. Originally called the Association Stand (and sometimes called the West Stand), it was opened by the Lieutenant-Governor Sir James Mitchell on 31 January 1935. The event coincided with the start of an international tennis competition with some of the best players coming to Perth, and the local newspaper reporting on the outstanding navy and white colour scheme of ladies and men fashions, as well as the display of straw hats and the fashionable new dark sunglasses.
From the 1930s onwards, the Kings Park Tennis Club was not only the centre of Perth’s social and sporting interests, with many social dances and balls also held in the stands, but considered the mecca of WA Tennis and one of the best private clubs in the world. It had reached its dream of being compared to the other famous grass court clubs, Wimbledon and Forrest Hills in the U.S. (the predecessor to Flushing Meadows). On 10 April 1939, a ceremony was held during a tennis match to dedicate the Association Stand as the McGibbon Stand, with a bronze tablet unveiled by Mr T E Robinson from the Lawn Tennis Association. McGibbon, who had recently retired, was the first treasurer of the Club and later Captain as well as first President of the Association. Affectionately known as the “Father of the Club”, a tournament was also named after McGibbon. In 1947, the club name was changed to Royal Kings Park Tennis Club. In 1952, the two iron gates at the east and west end entries were built and also named in honour of McGibbon. The other memorial gate erected at the Club, near the entrance to the 1914 Pavilion, was built to dedicate the memory of club members who lost their lives in World War II.
In 1964 the 1914 Pavilion was demolished to make way for the Eastman Building, constructed for the Adelphi Squash Club which had been taken over by the Tennis Club. It was named after Eric Eastman who was one-time President of the Club and life-member. Belonging to the modern movement of architecture, the building, designed by Johnson and Crystal, contrasted to the earlier buildings.
In 1994, the new State Tennis Centre was officially launched on the Burswood Peninsula. However, the lawn courts at Kings Park were regarded as some of the finest in the southern hemisphere, and are today are a rarity with lawn courts of competition standard often replaced with artificial surfaces because of the highly developed specialised skills that lawn courts require. The architectural style of the grandstands is also rare in this State. The courts and the buildings combined represent the technological achievement in structural engineering, constructional and horticultural practices of a tennis stadium of international standard.
Daily News 30 June 1899 p. 3
West Australian 29 July 1925 p. 7
Daily News 16 March 1926 p. 4
Daily News 24 March 1926 p. 4
The Call 26 March 1926 p. 3
West Australian 13 October 1934 p. 9
West Australian 30 October 1934 p. 9
Western Mail 28 Feb 1935 p. 27
West Australian 10 April 1939 p. 11
West Australian 3 July 1952 p. 14
West Australian 1 November 1954 p. 2
The McGibbon Years: A History of the first Fifty Years of the Royal King’s Park Tennis Club (Graeme and Lindsay Cox, 2002)