Established in 1898, the Irvington Club was Portland's first tennis only club, as well as existing as one of the nation's oldest. The one court (grass) facility grew substantially during the early part of the 20th century when Portland enjoyed a population and economic boom in the wake of the 1905 Louis and Clark Exposition. As Portland grew, so did its downtown region, and the subsequent desire by the affluence middle and upper class to live outside the city, helped by streetcars that could transport people to and from work.
One such streetcar suburb was Irvington, a community designed to be a self-contained residential community and home to the middle and upper-income Portlanders. At the same time suburbs grew in popularity, lawn and club sports, such as tennis and golf also gained tremendous popularity. Soon after the Louis and Clark exposition ended, club members formed the Irvington Improvement Association and raised $10,000 to purchase a city block between
21st and 22nd, and Thompson and Brazee Streets. As a result, a one-story frame clubhouse was erected. One year later, the Irvington Tennis Club sponsored the first Oregon State Tennis Championships.
Not long after the championship, club members concluded that a bigger facility proved necessary. In 1911, the committee commissioned Irvington Resident Ellis F. Lawrence to remodel the current building and expand it to two stories. Also adding tennis courts, the new building including social rooms, balconies, and both men's and women's locker rooms; the Irvington Club functioned as a community and social center.
The building, which largely remains the same today as it did in its pre-World War I existence, stands as a reminder of a nation that had moved first from rural to urban during the Industrial Resolution, and then, slowly but surely during the first half of the century, from urban to (for some) to suburban. The suburbs offered respite from urban life, but it was mostly offered only to those with means, and largely to white citizens. Advances in railways and streetcars allowed the more affluent sector of society to live further from work, thus enjoy more space to roam on days off from work. The legacy of Golf and Tennis clubs as primarily existing for affluent whites remains today.