Endgame for chess in Harper
Whatever it was that attracted crowds
to Hyde Park's tree-lined Harper Court is absent. On a steamy summer afternoon,
the spot's shaded benches and cool breeze seemed ideal for a respite from oven-like
apartments-but the Court was empty.
last spring, even a hint of warm weather summoned University students,
local kids, and chess enthusiasts from around Chicago to Harper Court and its
four public chess boards, installed there more than 35 years ago.
April the nonprofit Harper Court Foundation, which manages the 23-store shopping
center, decided to remove the boards because of complaints about litter, rude
behavior, and adverse effects on business. Despite Foundation board member Nancy
Rosenbacher's claim in a letter to the Hyde Park Herald that "not
one business in Harper Court...wanted to retain the chess boards," the Court's
business owners expressed divided opinion. Rich Padnos, owner of Wheels &
Things bicycle shop, was glad to see the chess boards go, telling the Chicago
Tribune that the players "are rude, they are irritating, and they are
noncustomers." Nancy Stanek, who owns Toys et Cetera, rebuffed that idea:
"The store owners didn't have anything to do with it. Why would I want to
get rid of the chess players? They are promoting a game I sell, and they buy boards
from me. I have never, not once, had a customer complain about the chess players."
government officials also weighed in. Toni Preckwinkle, AB'69, MAT'77, 4th District
alderperson, hailed the Court in the same Tribune article as "an important
community gathering place in Hyde Park." In response to allegations of criminal
activity, such as players dealing drugs, Preckwinkle argued, "Whenever you
have a gathering of people for some good purpose, such as playing chess, it forces
out the bad actors because they don't want any witnesses."
a sunny July Friday about 70 demonstrators held a "play-in" at the Court.
Playing on their own boards and sporting signs and T-shirts with "Boycott
Harper Court" and "Bring Back Chess" slogans, the protestors couldn't
deliver their 500-signature petition because no Foundation staff were present.
arrival has not eased the stalemate. The players have temporarily relocated to
an empty lot near the Hyde Park Bank building. Meanwhile, the Foundation insists
that-Preckwinkle, Stanek, and protestors aside-the boards are gone for good. -