George T. Myers has left his architectural stamp on some of the most recognizable projects in the Washington area.
His Kensington firm designed the Chinatown offices for Abe Pollin's Washington Sports management team in a row of restored brownstones near MCI Center. The firm also created an office building and restaurant space on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, converted the old Granary warehouse in Gaithersburg into an award-winning retail and office complex and designed four of the trendy Xando Coffee and Bar stores in Maryland and Virginia.
But his architecture resume did not land him the job as the designer of the proposed 11.6-acre tennis training center in College Park. It was his tennis game.
In 1974, Myers was the No. 11 junior tennis player in the country. Six years later, he went on to play tennis for the University of Maryland, where he was team captain in 1984.
And he came from tennis stock. As a boy, Myers, who grew up in Chevy Chase, played doubles with his grandfather, Hugh Lynch Jr., a mid-Atlantic champion player. His uncle, Hugh Lynch III, played at Princeton University and claimed a win over Arthur Ashe.
"From eight or nine to 23 [years of age], the No. 1 priority in my life was tennis," Myers, 37, said in a recent interview at his office in Kensington's historic district. "There's probably not another architect in the country who's been to more tennis facilities than I have."
Kenneth D. Brody, a Washington investor who is building the $5.5 million tennis center in Prince George's County, said he considered other architectural firms for the job, including some with significant experience designing sports complexes.
But Brody said he was "completely taken" by Myers. The two were introduced through an area tennis player who had played with both of them.
"I said, 'I'm not going to find anyone who has the heart and soul in the project like this guy,' " said Brody, who was a mid-life convert to the game. "He knows so much about tennis, what the feel should be, and he has really influenced the project."
The Prince George's County Planning Board and a County Council committee already have approved plans for the tennis center. The County Council was expected to vote yesterday on the project, which will feature 27 indoor and outdoor courts, a running track and a clubhouse with a retail shop, lounge and classrooms at the intersection of Cpl. Frank Scott Drive and Piney Branch Parkway.
The council is considering whether to grant Brody a lease to build on land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Construction is to begin as soon as the project is approved and could be completed by early next year.
The 20-year lease comes with two 10-year renewal options that Brody could exercise as long as he complied with the conditions of the agreement. After 40 years, the facility would be turned over to the commission.
Brody agreed to pay the commission $25,000 a year in rent and stipulated that the payment would be used to promote tennis in Prince George's. He also agreed to pay the commission half of any profit made at the complex, which will be privately operated as a nonprofit but open to the public to use for a fee.
The mission of the center is to train young players with high potential to win Division I college scholarships. The program, which started this summer on courts at Catholic University in the District, has enrolled 28 children. Most are participating with scholarships granted by the Brody family's charitable foundation, which also is funding the construction of the College Park complex.
"We'll be the first in the country with the level of ambition we have for it," Brody said. "In terms of the intensity of the program, it's not a couple of days a week."
Brody said the program will target disadvantaged youngsters who otherwise could not afford such extensive tennis training.
The young players will practice daily on the courts of the new center, which will have 15 outdoor courts with hard and soft surfaces and 12 indoor courts housed in three structures made of steel and fabric.
Myers said he borrowed from some of the best tennis complexes in the country, adding features to the College Park center that he liked or would have liked as a competitive player.
He has created artificial hills on the otherwise flat landscape. Myers said the hills give the complex natural viewing areas for the public to watch the matches being played on the outdoor courts. There also will be plenty of shade trees. A covered veranda across the clubhouse overlooks the main center court.
"The thing about playing competitive tennis is that you spend more time sitting around waiting than playing," Myers said. The center "will be designed as much for this as for playing tennis."
The typical tennis complex has four courts in a row with about 12 feet of space in between. Myers doubled the space between the College Park courts and placed viewing areas next to all of them.
"Each court will have its own sense of being a center court," he said. "As a player, it gives you a really special feeling. As a competitive player, I always liked the feeling that you are in center court."
Myers said most of the courts on which he played in high school and in college were not designed properly, primarily because they were not protected from the wind. The courts at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School "were awful," he said. "They had chain-link fences and cracks in the courts with grass growing out of them.
"The University of Maryland courts were bad for the same reason," he said. "There was no sense of place to them. A tennis court is very much like an outdoor room. Otherwise you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere."
The 15 outdoor courts at the College Park complex will have wind screens and landscaping next to them and will consist of nine hard and six soft surfaces. Four will be Hartru--the standard gray clay surfaces--and two will be red clay similar to those found at the French Open.
The 12 indoor courts will be housed in three connected buildings that are being manufactured in Belgium. The fabric walls will be similar to those used to construct tennis bubbles. The indoor courts will feature eight Decoturf courts--a soft rubber surface used at the U.S. Open--and four standard gray clay courts.
This is not the first tennis complex that Myers has designed, although the first one never was built.
Myers designed a tennis complex on Deer Creek Lake in Western Maryland as a hypothetical project for his master's thesis at the University of Maryland.
He borrowed some from that project--which he also presented to Brody when he was interviewing for the job.
Myers said he always knew he wanted to an architect. He knew he'd never be a professional tennis player, he said, because he was too distracted by other interests.
Bobby Goeltz, who coached Myers at the University of Maryland, said Myers couldn't always make tennis practice because of the demands of being in architecture school. But, Goeltz said, Myers was one of the brightest students he coached. He also was one of the best doubles players in the Atlantic Coast Conference when he was in college.
"He was a great kid," said Goeltz, who now coaches at Idaho State University. "Whatever he said he was going to do he did."
In 1989, a few years after hitting his last college tennis ball, Myers started GTM out of his basement. His 31-year-old brother, Jim, is his partner and runs the financial side of the business.
The firm specializes in historic renovations and was hired by developer Douglas Jemal--who has similar interests--to design the conversion of the old Woodward & Lothrop department store in downtown Washington. GTM also is the architect on another Jemal project--the conversion of the former Peoples Drug Store warehouse into an office complex.
But Myers eventually would like to design more sports complexes, he said. The College Park project "has been a ball," he said. "This is the kind of work I'd like to do."
Myers said Brody instructed him to design the best tennis center, not the cheapest, which has given him a tremendous amount of freedom as an architect. It also has been a dream for a tennis player.
"As a tennis player, it's going to be so nice that I'll go out of my way to play there," Myers said. "The better tournaments are going to be there, which is going to make it philosophically the center of Washington tennis because that's where the best tennis is going to be played."
And he would know?
"And I would know," Myers said with a grin. "Absolutely."
CAPTION: George T. Myers's architectural firm has designed four of the Washington area Xando Coffee and Bar stores.
CAPTION: George T. Myers, shown here in 1973, was a champion junior tennis player.