The Ghost of Sports Clubs Past

Snow was falling when I walked out of the Blind Tiger a week ago Monday. It lit up the air and covered the street and sidewalks with a wispy whiteness. The first season’s snow is always a little magical, especially down in the west village where it looks like Ebenezer Scrooge could pop out of an old-time shop, a Christmas goose under his arm, on his way to Tiny Tim’s.

I wish I could say that I was feeling as holiday cheerful. Given the evening’s events, I should’ve been. I’d just seen some absolutely amazing squash on the Printing House courts. The men’s 5.5 StreetSquash team was playing our guys and from 7:00 to about 10:00, forty or so fans filled the small stadium seating outside of Court B—munching on chips, drinking from “catered’ cans of Heineken, and gasping at some of the super-human squash shots we were witnessing. Witnessing for the last time on our beloved courts. A few days later, their destruction was begun.

I’ve never had a club taken away from me before. To put it in break-up terms, I’d always been the one doing the dumping. But I’d also had long term relationships with my clubs; I wasn’t into one year stands. Perhaps because my parents had set a good example. I was raised in our local YMCA. It wasn’t fancy, it certainly wasn’t pretentious, but it had everything needed to divert an active child’s attention. I somersaulted and cart wheeled on big blue floor mats in the gym, swam endless laps in the paint-flaking pool, and finally discovered the large white boxes at the end of a dingy hall. There was no pro to teach me, but players humored my tennis swing, set me up with a wooden racquet, and before long I was on course for my life-long squash addiction. I still return to play on the Y’s courts, although they’re no longer in the circa 1910 brick building I could walk home from; now they’re across town in a 90,000 square foot state-of-the-art athletic center with three brand new international courts and a doubles court. And at less than $50 a month (no court fees!), the Lynch/Van Otterloo Y is  a sizable incentive to move to Boston’s north shore.

When I got to New York City—let’s just say more than a few years ago—I wanted to play squash, but it was beyond my editorial assistant budget. So instead I joined the poshest club in New York—the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can get a lot of exercise roaming from gallery to gallery and there are even a few courts—although most are filled with sculpture and, sadly, don’t have much room to swing a racquet. However, at what worked out to be roughly five bucks a month, it was the best deal I ever had and when sharing a railroad apartment with two other girls, it afforded a certain kind of privacy—albeit amongst thousands of strangers. Reading in the sun-drenched American wing was my favorite activity.

But, let’s face it, it wasn’t squash. So when I got a slightly better paying job and moved downtown, I moved on . . . to the New York Health and Racquet Club. I played on the courts at the Whitehall Street branch, near Wall Street, which had two perks: a pool I could jump into après squash and a boat on which members could cruise around Manhattan. I used the first often; I never got around to the second. Probably because I never really got to know the other members. There wasn’t a women’s team—in fact, there were barely any women. So a few years later, I jumped ship (or boat, as it were) and clambered aboard New York Sports Club.

NYSC was kind of like the person you move in with but don’t end up marrying. It was cheap and easy. I could exercise on practically every other corner of the city and I played squash everywhere they had courts. 86th & Lex, 62nd & B’way, Cobble Hill, and, for those who remember, the midtown branch in the 30’s—long gone. I joined my first women’s league team and finally found my crowd—girls who liked to compete. And the more we traveled around the city playing other teams, the more like-minded friends I found.

I might’ve lived with NYSC for many more years, content but never committed, if three things hadn’t happened. I tore my achilles tendon (sacrificing it during a league match), cancelled my membership, and got a job on Hudson Street. The Printing House Fitness and Squash Club was three blocks away. It had five squash courts, an outdoor pool and roof deck, and a 360 degree view of Manhattan. It was love at first sight. And it only got better. Unlike every other club I’d belonged to in the city, the Printing House was not a chain; people knew you (and you knew them) by name; fellow classmates would save you a bike or a mat; conversations would go from locker room to gym and back again. But, best of all, were the courts where I played hundreds of round robins, won and lost a myriad of matches, drilled with players of all different levels, and made friends (and I hope not too many enemies) all along the way. Up until a few months ago, I joked that I couldn’t take a job elsewhere because I couldn’t be further than a ten minute walk to the Printing House. Sadly, it’s now no laughing matter. When the courts came down a week ago, less than twenty-four hours after the Equinox take-over, a photo circulated of court A with a section of wall sawed out. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt like a piece of their heart had been taken with it.

Last week was a rough week. Tuesday, December 14th was the final day we could play on the courts, and I did, winning my last point (sorry, Mike!) in an appropriately long rally. Later that evening, back at the Blind Tiger, the mood was pretty subdued. The snow was gone; it was just bitterly cold. But as I told a friend who seemed more depressed than I, we’ve got to get back on the courts immediately. And that means finding a new club. I know it won’t be the same as Printing House. I know that while some of my Printing house friends will be there, many will not. But I also know I want to be at a club that has (or has the potential for) a similar sense of community. When I walked in Printing House’s door almost ten years ago, I felt the vibe: friendly, competitive, unpretentious, obsessed, happy. And since last week, I’ve been feeling it again . . . as I walk up to CityView’s glowing courts and new and old friends who greet me by name.

It’s too early to know if my new club and I are a match made in heaven, but when I look out over the New York City skyline from the windows just outside the courts, I feel  pretty good. Maybe I’ll see it snow from here. I think it could be a happy new year after all. . . .

(for more Printing House photos, go here)

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3 Responses to The Ghost of Sports Clubs Past

  1. Jan Renner says:

    Thank you for this beautifully written post. It reflects many of my own feelings about Printing House and my 15+ years there.

  2. Thanks Tracy for your great posts that express lot of our printing house sentiments.
    Hope to decide on a new club after the 1st.
    Best for the Holidays
    Richard Pitts

  3. Adam Preston says:

    Nice post. This club sounds a lot like the club I play at in Saint Paul, Minnesota called the Commodore. Fortunately, the Commodore is still in existence though. If you ever find yourself in the Midwest, please stop by. Cheers!

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