Newport Beach’s Palisades Tennis Club appears to be getting a reprieve after initial fears that one of its landlords would not extend its long-term ground lease.
The potential closure threatened a club with a 45-year history that includes a tie to one of Newport’s most celebrated residents, John Wayne. It’s also the home venue of Newport’s lone professional sports franchise — the Orange County Breakers tennis team — and about 500 members.
But club officials calmed and cheered anxious members who packed the first-floor lounge of the clubhouse Tuesday night for an update about a week after they launched a grassroots appeal to landlord Russ Fluter of Newport’s Fluter Properties.
Eric Davidson, the Breakers’ owner and a leading club member, credited members’ letters and phone calls with changing Fluter’s mind.
“He has very graciously changed his position ... and decided that he wants to make a deal,” Davidson said.
Fluter said in a statement Wednesday that “Fluter Properties is in the process of exploring options to lease the property and intends on maintaining it for recreational use.”
Davidson, who also co-owns the eight-team World TeamTennis league and has a background in real estate development and investment, is handling lease negotiations. He said talks, though in their early stages, are positive and that the club should have at least two or three years of continued operation as its land owners plot their courses.
The club includes 16 lighted courts, a pro shop and a clubhouse at the northeast corner of the Hyatt Regency resort. Its multi-colored center court is home to the Breakers, who recently wrapped up their three-week season that serves as a tune-up for the U.S. Open.
The club operates under two separate leases. The hotel’s owner, a private equity real estate firm based in Los Angeles, owns the land under the parking lot and the front six courts. Fluter owns the land under the rest.
According to an Aug. 14 notice on club letterhead from Davidson and longtime club owner Ken Stuart, Fluter informed the club that it had to vacate its headquarters at 1171 Jamboree Road on Aug. 31.
Members rallied with letters and calls about the club’s social and recreational value. In addition to Breakers matches, it hosts member and benefit tournaments, youth camps and socializing at its pub.
Fluter Properties did not issue a notice to vacate but rather a notice that the lease was set to expire Aug. 31 and had not been renewed, Fluter said in his statement.
Davidson said the Hyatt owner, Woodridge Capital Partners — which bought the Hyatt property and its portion of the Palisades land last year for $98 million — hasn’t shared its plans for the Back Bay-adjacent resort but has given verbal assurance that the tennis club is safe.
Davidson said the club has lost about 100 members in the past year and a half due to the uncertainty about its future. Eight bailed in the past week, Stuart added.
Davidson said the more robust the club is as he negotiates with the landlords, the better his position.
Stuart is a Palisades original who shared the club’s story in an easy, fond way that suggests he’s told it many times over the decades.
Stuart designed the club as a young pro in the 1970s, when the country was in a tennis boom. But he didn’t have land. He knew someone who had a former heliport off Jamboree and West Coast Highway, but the parcel wouldn’t be big enough.
The Irvine Co. owned the neighboring property, naturally carved by a ravine nicknamed John Wayne Gulch after the legendary actor who lived in a harborfront home in Newport Beach in the 1960s and ‘70s and whose minesweeper-turned-pleasure craft, the Wild Goose, is still docked in Newport. The owner of the heliport parcel was one of his poker buddies.
Wayne arranged a meeting with an Irvine Co. executive who gave Stuart’s pitch the green light. The John Wayne Tennis Club opened in 1974 under a 45-year ground lease that transferred to Fluter after the Irvine Co. divested the land. Stuart, who went into the meeting with a map and a black grease pencil, served as manager for a few years before leaving for other business ventures. He renamed the club in 1995 when he returned to purchase the operation.
Palisades is one of three private tennis clubs in town, along with the Newport Beach Tennis Club off Eastbluff Drive and the Tennis Club at the Newport Beach Country Club between East Coast Highway and Newport Center Drive.
The city recreation department maintains 15 public courts spread among a half-dozen parks.
For Palisades member and retired fashion writer Laurie Drake, the club is a source of many friendships and is a reasonably priced amenity — a $4,000 initiation fee when she joined five years ago and $200 monthly, much less than the clubs where she previously lived in L.A.’s Westside.
For member and retired schoolteacher Cyndie Borcoman Martin, it’s a family-friendly fixture of the community.
“That’s part of our heritage,” she said.