In memoriam to former New York City mayor David Dinkins, the city’s first Black mayor, we first shared the history of the Manhattan Municipal Building which was renamed for him. But even lesser known is David Dinkins Circle, within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The circular plaza is more notable for two things: a series of mosaic medallions with designs connected to the two World’s Fairs (including one of a smiling Robert Moses designed by Andy Warhol!) and the icons of the Perisphere and Trylon from the 1939 World’s Fair in the center.
But if you know a little about Dinkins and his love for tennis, the location of David Dinkins Circle makes a lot of sense. Its located right next to the East Gate entrance of the U.S. Open, and if you’ve taken the 7 train to the tennis tournament you’ve been one of the many guests streaming through. After Dinkins’ death last month, The New York Times published an article titled “David Dinkins Kept Loving Tennis No Matter Who Mocked Him.” He was the ultimate fan and is credited with keeping the U.S. Open in New York and expanding the Flushing facility, including the construction of a new stadium.
Dinkins played tennis multiple times a week, and said that he was happy on vacation if there was “sun and sand and water, and a tennis court.” He joked “What else is there?” when asked what he does besides politics and tennis. Jennifer Capriati, the ’90s tennis sensation, called Dinkins “one cool dude.” They were reported to be friends. He was apparently exceedingly polite as a tennis player, as reported in the New York Times in 1989: “His opponents say David N. Dinkins plays a steady game of tennis. They say he never loses his temper, allowing himself at most an ‘Oh David’ when he double-faults or misses a return. But mostly they remark on his reliable forehand and his punctilious observance of the courtesies of the game.”
The mocking of Dinkins’ love for tennis was predominantly sourced to his successor, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani accused Dinkins of being elitist, since he liked to play tennis. Then as mayor, Giuiliani actively boycotted the U.S. Open, citing alleged issues in the contract signed between Dinkins and the United States Tennis Association. The Times writes that Giuliani’s statements seemed politically calculated to gain the vote of “working-class neighborhoods that have long complained about the traffic and crowds that clog Queens during the tournament, people who may feel that the city cares more about an event that draws an affluent audience than their peace and quiet.”
Mayor David Dinkins at the West Side Tennis Club in 2018
Much of this was long forgotten by 2008, when Michael Bloomberg renamed the plaza in Queens the David Dinkins Circle. Former mayor Ed Koch was also at the ceremony. Dinkins said at the event “There was a time, not too long ago, when New York was in very real danger of losing this event. The USTA was looking for a commitment from our city to ensure that this jewel of a tournament would have a place to call home for years to come…As mayor, I of course knew that it was important to keep the U.S. Open in New York.” On Dinkins’ death, the USTA released a statement which included a reference to the dedication of David Dinkins Circle: “In 2008, the area outside of the NTC’s East Gate, the very welcome mat for those who annually make the trek to New York from around the globe to experience the US Open was renamed in his honor, and is now known as the ‘David Dinkins Circle.'”
There is one sign at the plaza that will alert you to the fact that it’s named for David Dinkins. On the south side, a two-tiered sign attached to a park fence has the name of the place, a photo of Dinkins, and a long piece of text describing him.
To the end, Dinkins remained passionate about tennis. In 2018, he attended Heritage Day at the West Side Tennis Club, the original New York location for the U.S. Open in Forest Hills, along side the brother of Arthur Ashe and Virginia Wade.
Join us for our next tour of the Remnants of the World’s Fairs this Saturday to learn more about this location and many more connected to the former World’s Fairs! Or, join us for a virtual talk next week!