On February 9, family members and hundreds of friends gathered at Santuari Restaurant to celebrate the extraordinary life of Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club co-founder Wendell Niles Jr., who passed away on January 2 at age 88.
Niles’ father, Wendell Sr., was one of the biggest announcers during the golden age of radio, and the family’s Toluca Lake home was frequented by stars like Ronald Reagan and Bing Crosby. Wendell Jr. graduated from North Hollywood High School, then played football for the University of Washington and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. He went on to a career as a Hollywood producer but maintained a passion for athletics, producing celebrity sporting events all over the world in the 1970s and ’80s, including the creation of the prestigious Monte Carlo Tennis Tournament with close friend Princess Grace of Monaco. Additionally, he was a respected tennis player in his own right, in demand as a playing partner for both pros and famous amateurs.
He brought these talents to bear in the creation of the Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club in 1974. While real estate mogul Paul Ramsey came up with the vision and oversaw the construction of the facility, Niles built the tennis program and attracted a clientele of Hollywood stars. In addition, he was instrumental in bringing tennis back to the Summer Olympics and served as the director of special events for the sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. He even served many terms as the honorary mayor of Toluca Lake.
In attendance at the event honoring Niles were his wife of 56 years, Nelle, and their five children and seven grandchildren. Among the presentations made to the family were a flag that was flown over the Pentagon in honor of his more than 20 years of service as a captain in the Naval Reserve, as well as a signed football from his fellow players. Speakers including close relatives and prominent friends paid tribute to his many achievements and remembered him as larger than life, fun, generous, loyal and devoted to his family. He certainly left his mark on Toluca Lake, and he will be deeply missed.