When John Guthrie McCallum left Indiana in 1884 for the desert's warm, dry climate, he could not have known that years later The Tennis Club would become his family's legacy. He arrived seeking a healthful climate for his tubercular son. He became the first white settler and founder of Palm Springs. The subsequent arrival of a daughter, Pearl, set in motion a chain of events that would give birth to The Tennis Club.
In later years, Pearl McManus, "Auntie Pearl" to intimates, lived in a gorgeous pink mansion above the area where the club now sits. She was known for her astute real estate dealings and political connections. Auntie Pearl began her tennis club with only two courts and a 12pt, elegant clubhouse built just below her mansion in 1937.
In 1939 Pearl hired Tony Burke, a local real estate entrepreneur and avid Palm Springs booster, as club manager. Things happened immediately under Tony's direction. He installed the first bowling green in Palm Springs and it became an instant success. A vigorous membership campaign brought many new members from the ranks of Tony's friends in show business. Among the first were Ronald Coleman and Gilbert Roland (an accomplished player). The next innovation was the creation of a trout stream that ran through the club grounds and was fed by melted snow descending from Mt. San Jacinto. Tony arranged for trout to be transplanted from the Whitewater hatchery to the stream. Members caught beautiful trout which were then prepared in the kitchen for dinner.
With the increase in play, a third court was installed in time for a visit by the British Whightman Cup team. The team captain, Betty Nuthall, became the club's first hostess and assistant to Tony. Betty was instrumental in securing the club's fine reputation through her efforts at arranging games for members and guests.
During this period the club courts were graced by such giants as Bill Tilden, Alice Marble, Eleanor Tennant, Don Budge, Francis X. Shields, Fred Perry, Sidney Wood, Jack Kramer, Ted Schroeder, Welby Van Hom and others. Jack Macey, in 1939, was the first teaching professional. The Tennis Club flourished during the ensuing years and was a focal point for tennis enthusiasts during the winter months.
In 1961, Harry Chaddick toured the property with Frank Bogert, who was Auntie Pearl's club manager. Chaddick was a successful developer from Chicago. He became enamored of the area. He eventually bought a house here for his bride, Elaine.
Harry was impressed with the club and spoke with Auntie Pearl about selling. Nothing came of it, so he and Elaine returned to Chicago. Weeks later a representative of Pearl's made an offer to sell. Pearl had taken a liking to Harry and knew he would treat her beloved club with dignity and respect. Harry closed the deal over the phone. He later recalled, "I didn't even know what size the property was or even what constituted 'The Club'. It was just beautiful and I wanted it".
Harry's next hurdle was closing escrow. Every time Pearl needed to sign papers, she would disappear. She would not show for appointments. Harry understood. Pearl loved the club and it had been her home for many years. Selling it was like losing part of her. In any event, escrow closed and a new era began.
When Harry took over there were four courts, a clubhouse, a restaurant, ten bungalows and a pool across the street. He added more bungalows and two courts soon after. The vacant property south of the club was purchased by Harry and developed into a private condominium project along with three more courts. As buyers moved in they invariably joined the club and could be seen daily on the courts.
Pearl passed away and Harry began to envision an exquisite hotel against the mountain. Word reached Harry that Pearl's now vacant home was being considered for historical restoration. Harry explained, "I knew if the house was designated for historical purposes, I would never be allowed to construct my hotel. I called a demolition guy that I knew and paid him $5,000 to demolish the house".
The hotel and its quaint bungalows continued to attract top tennis talent in addition to the regular members. In 1970 Harry began his search for a new Tennis Director. He remembered meeting and talking with a pro who shared his philosophy. He located him and made an offer he couldn't refuse.
Bill Smith's name may have been common, but he was an uncommon man. Bill ran Harry's tennis program for the next ten years. Under his direction The Club became known as "The Tennis Players Club", with games being put together by Marge Kohlhase, Bill's genial hostess. Bill's wife, Peggy, became famous in her own right with the operation of the pro shop. The tennis "boom" of the 70's were truly glorious years.
Bill's tenure added volumes to the aura and history of the club. One famous story involved Bobby Riggs. Bill and Bobby first met as high school players in the 1930's. Prior to their first match, Bobby, ever the hustler, bet Bill 15 cents on the outcome. Years later they were having breakfast at The Tennis Club when the argument erupted anew. Bill offered to play Bobby again for the 15 cents. Word quickly spread throughout the club and by match time you couldn't get a seat. Here was the greatest tennis hustler of all time playing for 15 cents. Riggs won in three tough sets and Bill paid him a dime and a nickel.
Another Bill Smith story involved Billy Jean King. In those days, the dress code called for all white clothing. This was a cardinal rule and no exceptions were ever made. Producers for a commercial featuring King wanted to use the courts for filming. Harry gave them permission but advised Bill to handle the matter during his absence. Bill warned the producers about the dress code and he was assured it would create no problems. On the day of the filming, King took the court in blue tennis shoes. Bill invoked the dress code and offered to loan her a pair of white shoes. When she refused to change, Bill closed down the filming and they left in a huff. The story was picked up by the wire services and became a hot topic in tennis circles.
Evaluating their busy lives in 1980, Harry and Elaine decided to sell The Tennis Club. At this point, Ray Watt, one of America's premier developers bought the property. A new, innovative vacation concept, ''Timeshare'', began. The first sale was made in March, 1981, and a unique tennis environment was born. The private membership was augmented by new timeshare tennis enthusiasts which virtually brought a fresh group of players to the courts. The word quickly spread that the best tennis, regardless of ability level, was to be found at The Tennis Club.
Over eighty years have passed, and The Tennis Club is thriving. The legacy is alive and well. Somewhere Auntie Pearl is watching her beloved Tennis Club. We hope she approves.