When Major Walter Wingfield invented lawn tennis in 1874, he envisioned grass as the playing surface. But when the game came to America, it was discovered that it could also be played on a dirt court. Dirt contained clay provides a firm playing surface. Clay courts became the predominant surface for many years.
The Irvington clay courts were constructed at our present location in the spring of 1905. According to a February 1905 article in the Oregonian “Irvington has ambitions in the tennis direction. It will have the finest courts that experts can build,” and “There will be six dirt courts, and possibly one other grass court. The courts will be laid out far enough apart so that there will be plenty of room in which to play. Irvington possesses a half-sandy, half-clay soil, which has proved excellent for tennis court purposes. Perfect drainage will be provided for by a six-inch layer of gravel under the courts and six inches of clay on top. By this device the skirts of a rain cloud will hardly be over the horizon before the courts will be in a condition for playing”.
Clay courts require constant attention and maintenance, but not so much care as grass courts. E.J. Elwin took care of the Irvington clay courts for many years, beginning with the clay court in 1898. He born in Plymouth England and came to us in 1872. He was first employed at the Multnomah Club as a groundskeeper. He called the two courts in 1899 “his twins”. In the 1914 North Pacific International Lawn Tennis Association Official Guide, it says – “As we go to press the famous Elwin, who has had charge of the Irvington courts in Portland for sixteen years, is celebrating his sixtieth birthday. He was presented on the anniversary date, May 24th, a handsome gold watch and fob attached, given by the tennis players as appreciation for his faithful service”. After Elwin retired, Bob Salvus took care of the courts assisted by his brother Dick. The routine included relining the courts with lime every Saturday, because there would be a lot of play on Sundays. Then on Monday, the courts would be rolled and watered, and relined again. The clay surface would gradually wear down, so every few years new clay soil would be brought in and spread on the surface of the courts. They were excellent clay courts.
The Irvington Club kept its clay courts much longer than most other tennis clubs on the Pacific Coast. In 1946, economic conditions and the cost of maintenance motivated the Club to put an asphalt surface on top of the clay. Claude Hockley was president and arranged to borrow money for the project from members. The contractor was the Cascade Construction Company. Two years later, a green walk-top surface was put over the asphalt. The project was supervised by Wes Hartman and Graham Findlay, and club members provided the work force.
Document Source: Sam Lee, 1995