The neighborhood between the Lincoln Memorial and the White House contains a staid and unadventurous mix of federal architecture like the State Department building, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Interior. Tucked away in one corner of this valley of quiet formality, many passersby are surprised to find a lone public tennis court situated in the shadow of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors Building.
This unusually located public court owes its provenance to longtime Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin’s passion for the sport. Martin played tennis daily, and was known to hustle through his morning Federal Open Market Committee meetings in order to make it to the court by noon.
Bill Martin was a quirky man. A hardworking monetary policy luminary by day, he avoided alcohol, smoking, and threw himself into tennis whenever possible. “We try to play every day we can. It’s very relaxing,” Martin told the Washington Post in 1967. The amusing interview went on to remind readers that this was also a man “whose actions as the Federal Reserve Board chairman can send the New York Stock Exchange into large-scale advances and declines.”
In 1955, while kindling one of the largest economic booms in American history, Martin found time to set up a tennis youth foundation aimed at curbing juvenile delinquency. And at the end of his 19-year career leading the Federal Reserve, the 64-year-old economist reinvented himself as a professional athlete, eventually entering the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Several of Martin’s successors at the Fed, like Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geithner, are known to have also played on the court, though without Martin’s regularity or passion. Today anyone is free to pick up a game there and ponder the outsized legacy of Bill Martin in between serves and sets.
Know Before You Go
Contact the Federal Reserve tennis court liaison at 202-736-5507 to make a reservation.
- Gen. Taylor, Martin Join Tennis Group, Washington Post, December 24, 1955
- Noontime Tennis Helps Martin Relax, Washington Post, July 4,1967