100 Years of Tennis at the Hotel Del Coronado

Actors Johnny Downs and Betty Burgess on the courts at the Hotel Del in 1935. Photo: Ben Press

Ben Press was the head tennis professional at the Hotel Del Coronado for 28 years, where he entertained thousands of celebrities on the courts. He is a Coronado resident, a former tennis columnist for the San Diego Evening Tribune and has written for numerous tennis magazines and newspapers over the years.

In the world of tennis, few have had the relationships or adventures of Ben Press. Now, at the age of 85, he has written a book called, "100 Years of Tennis at the Hotel del Coronado: Playground of the Stars." It's a pictorial tell-all of the once glamorous tennis courts that sat on Coronado's white sand beach between the Victorian hotel and the Pacific Ocean.

"100 Years of Tennis" is a beautifully packaged coffee table tome containing 160 pages, 100 photos and a forward by Pam Shriver, international sports commentator and member of the Tennis Hall of Fame.

Shriver grew up playing on the hallowed tennis courts of the Hotel Del. "The vista from the Del courts was my favorite," recalled Shriver. "It had one of the world's grandest hotels on one side, and the great Pacific Ocean on the other."

Ben Press with President George H. W. Bush on the courts at the Hotel Del.

"100 Years of Tennis" was four years in the making. The book opens with a history of the Hotel Del and photos of tennis players visiting the Del dating back to the 1800s.

Fittingly, the book's poignant epilogue takes a look back at the ghosts of tennis past, and the members of the Coronado Beach & Tennis Club – the average players with above average personality and a lust for the game of tennis who breathed life into the tennis program at the Del for decades.

The book is an accumulation of photographs and anecdotes no one else could possibly have gathered or written, presented through the eyes and words of one of tennis' great emissaries and all-around gentlemen of the sport.

"The courts are gone now," said Press, "but at times the ghosts of tennis past still linger. I walked through the grounds of the Del just the other day, and I could still hear the harsh and familiar cries of the seagulls flying overhead. As I looked up I found myself remembering the sight of Air Force One gliding towards North Island Naval Air Station, a mere high lob from my teaching court. President George H.W. Bush and I were a pretty tough doubles team."

The book captures the luster of the celebrity visitor ranging from players like Andre Agassi and Billy Jean King to household names like Walter Cronkite and football's Tom Landry. Hollywood visitors are well represented through such tennis players as Errol Flynn, Gilbert Roland, Farrah Fawcett, Lucille Ball and Charlton Heston, just to name a few.

Press pays homage to numerous Coronado players as well, such as the Kingston Trio's Nick Reynolds, actor/dancer Johnny Downs and tennis professionals Alex Gordon and "Happy" Jack Campbell.

"100 Years of Tennis" is available at Bay Books, the Hotel del Coronado, the Coronado Visitor Center, or by visiting BenPress.com. The book sells for $29.95 and is available in hard cover only.

For more information on the author and the book, call or write (619) 980-2142 or bbass1931@aol.com.

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