Spring Lake’s history is rooted in its development as a place to relax and escape the grind of city life. It is not surprising that by the late 1800s, many prominent Spring Lake residents were in search of a space to spend leisure time as well as provide a pool for children to learn to swim. Martin Maloney was prepared to sell the northern part of his ocean lot that sat east of his future home, Ballingarry Estate, in order to make the idea of an amusement hall a reality. In 1898, prominent Spring Lake summer residents, Samuel Huey and John Fanshawe joined Martin Moloney to have papers drawn up officially founding The Casino Company of Spring Lake.
Their vision was to create a place of sports and leisure including a swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling alley, and rooms for cards and billiards. They also planned a ballroom to enjoy evening events filled with music and dancing. They hired architect Horace Trumbauer who also designed Ballingarry and later St. Catharine’s Church.
They broke ground in 1899 and by the summer of 1900, The Casino was complete. The original saltwater pool was 75 by 30 feet and surrounded by 60 changing lockers. The shady veranda had a soda fountain run by D.H. Hills. On the west side of The Casino, there were three tennis courts. The southern half of the block remained Martin Maloney’s property.
After fifteen years of successful summers, the stockholders sought to expand into the southern half of the block. After reviewing the plans, Martin Maloney agreed to sell the remainder of the block. By the early 1920s, they had expanded the pool to 100 by 75 feet and added bathhouses, more tennis courts, and a drying room. They also took down the front steps on Ocean Avenue and dug a tunnel under the street to create a safer way of traveling to the beach since cars were outnumbering horses.
The Casino became a mainstay of the summertime social scene. Lavish black tie Saturday evening parties hosted by different families were the highlight of the summer. One of the most popular evenings was the annual “Bergash Bash,” a costume party hosted by Charlie Bergash. A Hollywood designer, Charlie transformed the ballroom into intricate stage sets. At the end of August, an annual “Shenanigans” revue helped close the social season each summer.
Beyond the social scene, The Casino was also known for its elite sports activities and became a renowned stop on the amateur tennis circuit. They hosted annual invitational tennis tournaments inviting outside players to compete. The Hemphill Bowl for the single’s tournament and Duggan Bowl for the double’s tournament were battled for on the courts by accomplished players such as George Lott, Francis X. Shields, Haines Stockton, Frankie Parker, and Wilmer Allison.
By 1942, World War II had put a stop to the popular tournaments. Frankie Parker, who had won the Hemphill Bowl ten times and the Duggan Bowl five times, became Sergeant Parker and was enlisted in the Army Air Corps. At the height of the war, a fire broke out at The Casino in October 1944. A smoldering wire from a nearby transformer lit the roof on fire at its northwest corner. The wooden structure didn’t stand a chance with the strong autumn trade winds blowing in from the ocean. The fire quickly ravaged the U-shaped clubhouse leaving it a pile of rubble by morning. From its ashes, a new clubhouse was built and often referred to as The Bathing & Tennis Club. It is the same building that stands today.
By 1946, the longstanding tradition of elite tennis continued and matches were broadcast live over the radio. Top players continued to visit Spring Lake in July the week after Wimbledon with players such as Gerdnar Mulloy, Billy Talbert, Vic Seixas, and Bruce Johnson (once a ball boy at The Casino) dominating the courts into the 1960s. Vic Seixas, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, and Doris Hart were doubles partners. Together, they won six Grand Slam titles.
After turning professional, Doris Hart became the resident pro in 1955 and continued until after the 1964 season. To this day, she is remembered for her lessons on strokes, footwork, and most importantly her strong belief in players’ etiquette. A bowl she awarded to junior players is still presented annually in her name to a player who shows sportsmanship, deportment, and ability. The club’s tennis prominence was renowned with 114 total Grand Slam titles held by players associated with the club, 30 of which were held by Doris Hart.
By the 1970s, the tennis and the resort world were evolving. Distant vacation spots were more accessible due to opening airline routes, and grand seaside resorts such as the famous Monmouth Hotel began to disappear. With fewer guests, The Casino Company changed its ownership style and with it, its name. In 1977, The Casino became officially known as the Spring Lake Bathing & Tennis Club. This initiated a change in the club’s appearance over the next decade as a heated freshwater and new baby pool were added and many of the spaces inside got necessary facelifts. What remains the same is the vision of providing a space for sports, leisure, and memories to be made in the same beautiful town where it all began.
Special thanks to the Spring Lake Historical Society and The Spring Lake Bath & Tennis Club for their help with compiling history and photos.