Davie Tennis Stadium
Recreation Magazine Archive, December 1949:
During the years 1926 to 1946, Oakland, like every other city in the nation, went through a major depression and then five years of war. Through the aid of the Federal Government, though, many new facilities were acquired in the depression years of 1934 to 1939. It was during those years that Davie Tennis Stadium, with a battery of five night-lighted courts, and a caretaker’s house, was constructed in an abandoned quarry in the heart of the city. This stadium is one of the outstanding tennis plants in the country and some of the great tennis players of the nation have been developed here. Frequent players on the courts include well-known professionals such as Don Budge and Frank Kovacs.
Davie Tennis Stadium is a set of five tennis courts entirely within the city limits of Piedmont (its address is 198 Oak Road, Piedmont 94610) but owned and operated by the City of Oakland. The site, the former Piedmont Paving Company quarry, was given to the City of Oakland in 1931 by former mayor John L. Davie and his family. Mayor Davie announced this stadium project idea in 1921, though the property was not actually given to Oakland until 10 years later.
Piedmont Paving Company (formerly Alameda Macadamizing Company) Quarry: "It was opened in 1878 by the Alameda Macadamizing Company, and reopened by the present management about 1892. The rock is a fine grained, metamorphosed sandstone, bluish in color, locally termed ‘blue rock.’ It is used chiefly for macadam, but some is utilized for rubble and ballast.” This site is now Davie Tennis Stadium. (In a 1992 talk, historian Ted Wurm erroneously said the Morcom Rose Garden was the site of the quarry. There is no bedrock mapped at the Rose Garden.)
Mayor Davie announced this stadium project idea in 1921, though the property was not actually given to Oakland until 10 years later.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) developed the Davie Tennis Stadium in 1936-37 with an allocation of $65,000. WPA relief workers built five tennis courts, with lights for night play and bleachers for viewing, plus a community center in rustic style that has a WPA plaque in front. Low stone walls circle the courts and run around the short entrance road; stone pillars flank the park gate.
The park opened to the public on September 1, 1937.
The park lies within the city limits of Piedmont CA, itself entirely within the city limits of Oakland! Piedmont residents opposed the park but Oakland built it anyway. The Piedmont city council did succeed in preventing nighttime play for a time.
The site is an old quarry at the head of Lakeshore Avenue that was donated to the city of Oakland by former Mayor John Davie. The city also condemned and purchased four adjoining lots to expand the park area.
The hidden poetry of Oakland’s Davie stadium
IF WALT WHITMAN were alive today, and playing tennis, he would write poems about Davie Tennis Stadium in Oakland. That’s if he could find it first.
Davie exudes a poetic loveliness. It is tucked into an old rock quarry, surrounded by an endless variety of trees, hence tennis’s forest primeval.
Protected in its own little “valley,” Davie is warm, yet cool in the summer months. Its cozy, wood clubhouse resembles a hunting lodge. And there is a peaceful ambiance about the place that suggests a religious retreat.
Whitman would relish Davie’s untarnished, verdant charm, and try to coax Robert Frost into playing doubles with him there. But in order to locate Davie, they would need Lewis and Clark to guide them.
“This is Oakland’s hidden secret,” said Jaami Breland, a Davie tennis instructor.
Davie regular Steve Cornell, 58, played all across the United States as a younger man, and he believes Davie stands alone in ambiance.
“This is the most gorgeous tennis court in the country,” said Cornell. “This is a place where time stands still. People I’ve brought here are awed. They never forget Davie.”
Davie belongs to Oakland, but, uniquely, its property also includes Piedmont. In fact, the Piedmont city line runs directly through Davie’s five courts, right between courts three and four, making it possible to hit an errant backhand from one city to another, in either direction.
... But don’t missseeing Oakland’s tennis paradise — the Shangri-La of serve and volley. Lucky Bill Conway. He’s the tennis director at Davie, but even he got lost his first trip there. “It’s basically almost like you would take a small bed and breakfast from the New England states,” Conway said in describing Davie. “When players come here, they don’t want to leave. The atmosphere hasn’t ever left.”
Cornell has played 50 years at Davie, and still shows up once a week. He knows another man who’s played there 65 years. And there’s a lady who’s 80 and who might have even greater longevity at Davie.
If you’re wondering who Davie was, John L. Davie was a five-term mayor of Oakland who bequeathed the stadium site to “the children of Oakland” in 1931. The stadium itself was built through President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration between 1936 and 1937.
Thus, Davie Tennis Stadium is 70 years old. In its clubhouse, which has a giant fireplace, are photos of local tennis greats — and Davie regulars — Don Budge, Art Larson, Frank Kovacs, Tom Brown, Whitney Reed and Brad Gilbert, plus the nameplates of every singles and doubles winner at the Oakland City Championships, played annually at Davie.
Naturally, everybody at Davie is an expert on tennis. Serious discussions go on about which top-ranked players have the best overall game. Pete Sampras or Roger Federer? Helen Wills Moody or Martina Navratilova? It reaches the intensity of a barroom argument, without punches thrown.
Even the top-ranked players have gotten into it, such as who has the best backhand? Cornell tells the story of Kovacs approaching Grand Slam winner Budge at Davie and saying, “Don, you know who has the second best backhand in the world, don’t you?” And Budge replied, “Well, Frank, you should know.”
Backhand, forehand … the sound of making contact with a tennis ball always sounds better at Davie. The echoing “thonk” in the rock quarry is louder than at other tennis sites, and makes players’ egos soar. That’s another reason why they keep coming back to Davie.
Davie is officially run by the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department. It’s $5 a hour to rent a court, and there are lights for playing at night. Used balls are donated to youth tennis associations as well as to assisted living centers, serving as cushions for the walkers of the elderly.
Obviously, Davie means many things to many people. “This place spoils you,” Cornell said.
Oakland Tribune - Tues - May 5, 1931
DAVIE AGAIN OFFERS TO GIVE STADIUM SITE
Mayor Proffers Land to City--With Strings Attached
The city council today had befort it the latest offer of Mayor John L. Davie to turn over the so-called "Davie stadium site" to the city for the use in perpetuity of the children of the Eastbay.
His offer differs in two ways from previous expressions of willingness to part with the site. It apparently came out of a clear sky, unprompted by inquiries into the manner in which the Davie family came into possession of the land ten years ago and also it has some strings attached to it.
Foremost among the conditions Davie would now impose is that the city agree to "expend a substantial stipulated amount amount each year to insure the speedy completion and ultimate enjoyment of this stadium."
Another requirement is that the property be held forever free for the use of school children of the East Bay, under conditions to be laid down by the Oakland recreation department.
The mayor's official tender of the stadium contains a long preamble in which he sets forth the self-sacrifice of himself and his song in acquiring the site, an abandoned quarry at the head of Lakeshore avenue, maintaining it at "a financial hardship costing us over
$10,000 thus far, and in withstanding "scurrilous attacks."
"We would have been far better off in dollars and cents had we made the donation years ago, but it could not not conscientiously be
done." Davie asserted.
After reciting a long rigmarole of asserted "political" reasons why the Davie conscience made the gift inadvisable, the mayor came out
with this flat-footed promise:
"The time has now come, therefore, when I desire to see the consummation of this transfer of this stadium to the city of Oakland. With a council having the rights and happiness of the people in mind it should not be difficult to secure a speedy transfer of this property with all of the essential safeguards."
The mayor's previous "difficulties" in making the presentation have been rather onerous, the records show. A year ago, after a public demand had been made for an accounting of a public fund allegedly raised for the original purchase of the quarry site, Davie came out with a statement that his son, William Davie, owns the property "to hold for the city." The mayor said the site, for which $6000 was paid, had increased in value and that a Los Angeles firm had bid $25,000 for it. He also asserted a "stadium ball," held in 1921 to raise money for the project, had been a financial failure, and that "not one cent" of public money had gone into the purchase.
Later the mayor announced that he, intended to turn the stadium problem over to George Wilhelm, then considering acceptance of an appointment as city commissioner, for disposal. Wilhelm accepted the commissionership, but apparently side-stepped the stadium. No action on Wilhelm's part regarding the stadium is on record.
Then, as demands for a probe of the affair were pressed by the Oakland Ministerial Union, the mayor Introduced a resolution instructing Preston Higgins, then city attorney, to find the necessary legal means for transfer of title to the city, Higgins delayed and postponed, giving numerous excuses, one of which was that, since most of the site lies in the city of Piedmont, the legal procedure would be involved. Recently Higgins was ousted from office--and since then the stadium has slumbered peacefully until today, when the mayor, of his own volition, stirred the placid pool of public memory.
Oakland Tribune - Tues - May 12, 1931
STADIUM SITE GIVEN TO CITY
Quarry on Piedmont Line Accepted by Council
From Davie Family
After more than four years of public discussion, the so-called "stadium site" on the Oakland-Piedmont line, was deeded today to the City of Oakland by William Davie, city treasurer and son of Mayor John L. Davie.
The city council adopted a resolution accepting the deed of gift, An appropriation of $499 was then made by the council for the purchase of a metal plaque which shall be erected somewhere in the stadium by the board of playground directors, commemorating the gift by the Davie family.
MOSTLY IN PIEDMONT.
The stadium site was given to the city upon consideration of $10. It comprises 5 acres, mainly in Piedmont. Oakland therefore 'acquires a little chunk of Piedmont.
The deed was granted with the understanding that the property shall be known as the "Davie Memorial Stadium" and its sole purpose shall be as a public park for playground and recreation purposes. It is granted under the express condition that the premises shall be used exclusively for these purposes, and if devoted to any use inconsistent with these purposes, the tract shall revert to the donors.
ENTRANCE AND EXIT,
According to c. Stanley Wood, city attorney, who drew up the deed of gift and the papers of acceptance, and also looked into the titles
of all the property, the old quarry known as the stadium is granted to the city and also the Davie tract outside the quarry is granted to
the city efficiently to provide a permanent entrance and exit from Oak road, which ends near the entrance of the stadium,
William Davie bought three lots which lie across the stadium entrance, two in 1924 and one in 1925. This was after the stadium project was conceived by the mayor. William Davie, however, said that his purchase of these lots was to complete the stadium as whole, and to make sure that entrance and exit would be always guaranteed to the stadium,
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Sep. 15, 1937
Recreation Magazine, September 1938 pg. 322
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Nov. 20, 1938
My Own Story
By John L. Davie · 1931