When Forest Hills Stadium opened its doors in 1923, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president following the death of Warren Harding, Yankee Stadium hosted its first game, London’s original Wembley Stadium opened its doors to the public and Henry Kissinger, Charlton Heston and Bettie Page were among the famous names born that year.
And while the first event held at Forest Hills Stadium was the final of the International Lawn Tennis Challenge that found the United States defeating Australia, a few decades later, this 14,000-seat horseshoe-shaped open air amphitheater became a cherished site for live performances. The murderer’s row of storied artists ranged from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Simon & Garfunkel, Talking Heads and Joni Mitchell to even seeing Jimi Hendrix open for the Monkees in 1967. This year is also the 10-year anniversary of the stadium’s resurrection after laying fallow since hosting its last show, the K-Rock Dysfunctional Family Picnic in 1997.The man behind it all is music promoter/booking agent Mike Luba, an Albertson native whose parents met on a date going to see a bill of Simon & Garfunkel and The Doors at Forest Hills Stadium. For Luba, the past decade has found him and his team lovingly restoring the building. With this landmark anniversary landing this year, he’s justifiably proud of how well the venue has held up.
“This year is a biggie,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot, if any, first-generation iconic buildings like this left in New York. Yankee Stadium is Yankee Stadium II. Madison Square Garden is on its fourth version. Citi Field was Shea Stadium. Ebbets Field is gone. The Polo Grounds are gone. The Singer Bowl is gone. We’re older than Radio City Music Hall. I think what’s crazy is that Carnegie Hall might be a couple of years older. We’re right at the beginning of mass gatherings happening on any sort of scale. We’re pretty proud that this spot has managed to make it for a full century. It’s pretty amazing.”
In the 10 years since Luba and his crew have been booking shows, they’ve landed a number of major coups that involved having a number of legacy artists who played the venue in its earlier incarnation returning to grace the Forest Hills Stadium stage. Among the names are Bob Dylan, Hall & Oates, Paul Simon (minus Art Garfunkle) and The Who with an array of equally impressive acts joining that roll call of names including Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ed Sheeran, Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow and Dolly Parton, Luba also had this Queens institution be a stop on The Replacements reunion tour, be the site of the late Tom Petty’s last-ever New York dates, last year’s Rock the Bells Festival (which served as a homecoming for LL Cool J among other hip-hop legends), become the summer home of the New York Pops and in a nod to its sports roots, host the inaugural season of World Team Tennis in 2016.
Given Forest Hills Stadium’s location in a residential neighborhood means Luba and his crew have made a concerted effort to allay any resident concerns. The promoter is himself a local resident, so ensuring the venue is in compliance with local noise ordinances has been a priority and led to measures that include soundproofing stairwells leading into the main performance space and installing sound-absorbing material along the fence that lines the perimeter of the stadium’s property. It didn’t stop the nonprofit Forest Hills Garden Corporation from suing and threatening to close Burns Street, a public road that is also a local byway that leads to the stadium. The West Side Tennis Club and Luba countersued over the threatened closure of this season’s upcoming slate of shows. And while there was a brief flurry of media coverage regarding the legal battle, it’s since died down as local response has leaned heavily in favor of the stadium.
“This has been the worst kind of ‘I don’t care if I ruin it for everyone just to prove my own point,’” Luba explained. “It’s been great for us because [this dispute] unified the neighborhood and people are protective of the stadium. We spent so much time, effort and energy putting the word out that it’s a welcoming, diverse oasis kind of a spot, which it truly, really is. The support we’ve gotten has been really heartwarming. We’ve worked pretty hard to make it as safe and accommodating a spot as we can in 2023 while being good stewards and letting the building do its own thing.”
Visit www.foresthillsstadium.com for more information.