It’s easy to walk right past Knickerbocker Field Club without even noticing it. The only thing marking this community tennis club in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood is a small green sign atop a chain-link fence.

But hidden behind the dense walk-ups at 18th Street and Tennis Court (get it?) is a member-owned, member-driven club that has given Brooklyn residents a place to relax for more than 120 summers.

(via New York Times)

The club was originally built in 1892 by the new wealthy homeowners of the “fashionable Flatbush district” of Brooklyn.

(via Scouting NY)

Though a fire destroyed the historic main clubhouse in the 1980s, the member-owned “Knick” now serves the new Flatbush – a diverse neighborhood of working-class immigrants and professional young families.

The club’s 160 members are mostly looking for a regular game with some familiar faces. So, too, are the 40-plus people on the waiting list. At $800 for a season, it’s still a relatively affordable way to stay connected.

“Everybody has their friends who they love to come see. It’s really become a neighborhood destination,” said Ray Habib, the club’s president.

(Google Map here or click to expand)

After three years of membership, you can become a voting member of the club. That means that it’s the members themselves who decide what to invest in and what to pursue.

That’s how the club’s free summer program for neighborhood kids came to be. For six weeks each summer, about 50 local kids get free rackets and free lessons.

“We’re not the kind of tennis club that doesn’t give back,” Habib said.

That’s what happens when the members decide on the direction – it’s not about maximizing profits, it’s about what’s best for the community.

With that, here are some great photos from the early days of the Knick. (Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library's amazing Brooklyn Visual Heritage project)

(Photo of Knickerbocker Bowling Team, 1905 -- the original clubhouse had a bowling alley)

(From June 9, 1893 New York Times)