Two words: clay courts. One of the few public tennis centers where the rabble can play on a surface generally reserved for the gentry, Howard Park is a hidden gem. Long ignored by West Palm Beach recreation planners, it's a 60-plus-year-old facility where the infamous Bobby Riggs once swung a racquet. And it recently got a face-lift to match the resurgence of the surrounding neighborhood, which is just across Okeechobee Boulevard from CityPlace. The center was once in the midst of crack houses. Even folks wielding tennis racquets feared to tread there. Now it's a magnet for Jag- and Rolls-driving tennis nuts from Palm Beach, as well as those with less substantial pedigrees and more ordinary wheels. Majestic banyan trees that were probably little more than shrub height when the center opened in the late 1930s provide shade. Along with seven clay and two hard courts, there's a quaint stadium with a clay surface where Riggs and lesser-known competitors once played. Tennis director Mike Boone says an elderly visitor once told him she was in the middle of a game when news hit that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. "What was the reaction?" Boone recalls asking her. "Oh," she replied. "We finished the set." And 61 years later, they're still playing tennis with equally unflappable intensity.Howard Park
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