by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Our blazing hot temperatures of the last couple of days would preclude the thought of even hitting the courts, but at this time in 1929, the Los Angeles Tennis Club hosted the 40th annual Pacific Coast Doubles Championship, an amateur tournament, sanctioned by The Southern California Lawn Tennis Association and The California Lawn Tennis Association.
The tournament, which included a “Special Men’s Singles and Special Women’s Singles” series of matches was held at the club’s courts in the Hancock Park neighborhood over four days starting on Independence Day, which was a Thursday, and concluded on Sunday the 7th.
The winners of the doubles tournament were to go on and compete in the National Men’s Doubles tournament, held in Boston in August. The singles events were not for a championship, though the entry fees of $2 per person were the same for all three. The singles matches were up to three sets in length, while the doubles match was up to five.
Today’s post highlights the event program, which was printed in a very striking Art Deco style. The publication not only provides tournament information, including for entries and hotel accommodations, but also has an entry blank with a deadline of two days prior to the start of the event.
After the four days of play, the doubles champions were Jimmy Davies and Phil Neer, former champions at Stanford University. The duo defeated Cliff Herd, of Pasadena, and Alan Herrington, of Los Angeles and another former Stanford star, 6-3, 7-5, 9-11, 6-4.
Neer was an early Pacific Coast tennis star who became known nationally, first in his native Oregon and then at college. Long a partner of Davies, Neer turned professional and was ranked #8 in the country when, in 1933, he played an exhibition match with his friend, female star Helen Wills Moody, the regining women’s champion at Wimbledon. Predating by forty years the infamous Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs match, this one saw Moody, who was four years younger, easily defeat Neer, 6-3, 6-4.
Notably, in the light press coverage of the tournament, no mention was made of who won the singles events. In the program, however, there were lists of the winners of all three events the prior year (though the document erred in stating they were the 1929 winners). The doubles champions in 1928 were Neil Brown and Robert Seller, both of San Francisco, who beat a pair of local Los Angeles-area players, while the men’s singles winner was Ellsworth Vines, a Pasadena resident who was not quite 17 years old when he took the match.
Vines went on to be a professional player of note, being ranked at #1 in the U.S. for several years in the 1930s, after much success as an amateur earlier in the decade, including a win at Wimbledon in 1932 and U.S. Championship titles that year and the prior one. Winner of four professional majors between 1934 and 1939 and he retired in 1940, with tennis great Jack Kramer later writing that Vines was, with Don Budge who dethroned Vines as #1 in 1939, the best player in the world at the time. Remarkably, Vines went on to play professional golf, taking three PGA tournament titles, including the Southern California PGA tournament in 1951 before retiring by the end of the decade.
Then, there was the 1928 women’s singles winner, May Sutton Bundy of Santa Monica. Born in England, she came to Pasadena with her family when six years old. She and three sisters became tennis prodigies in the region and were basketball starts at Pasadena High School, as well. At 17 in 1904, Bunday captured the women’s singles crown at the U.S. Open. She then captured the Wimbledon crown in 1905 and 1907, which led her to be selected queen of the Rose Parade in Pasadena in 1908.
She married three-time national doubles champion Tom Bundy in 1912 and retired to raise a family of three boys and a girl, all but one of whom naturally became fine tennis players. Daughter Dorothy won the Australian Championships in 1938. Though in her mid-thirties, May Bundy returned to professional tennis and became the fourth-ranked woman in the United States and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1929 at age 42.
The players ninety years ago at the amateur championship at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, which has operated at the same site since 1920, are a far cry from the likes of Roger Federer, the Williams sisters, and other tennis notables today, but, in their time, they were among the cream of the crop on the Pacific coast. This program is a nice representation of greater Los Angeles sports in the 1920s (and “sports” that great Art Deco look to boot.)