Hyde Park chess fans stage `play-in' protest
By Celeste Garrett
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 20, 2002
About 70 demonstrators marched on a Hyde Park retail center Friday calling for the return of four popular concrete chess benches, saying they provided a model for the city on how to bring together an eclectic neighborhood.
Longtime local chess players, mothers and their schoolchildren, University of Chicago students and citywide chess enthusiasts held placards that read "Bring Back Chess" and played the game in the middle of Harper Court on portable chessboards to protest the removal of the benches by the court's management.
"There was one summer that my son, David, was down here every day playing with these guys," said Nancy Jacobson, as David, 10, played chess nearby. "They took such care and time in teaching him the game, and the idea that they are some scary bunch of guys out here--there's just no way."
Though several protesters wore T-shirts with pictures of chess pieces and "Boycott Harper Court," many of the merchants have come out in support of the chess players, including Elaine Elam, owner of the Calla Lily Gift Shop. She said she is closing her shop soon, in part, because of her dissatisfaction with the board of the non-profit Harper Court Foundation.
"They didn't consult with us about the chessboards and afterward they tried to tell us that it was to get rid of the drug dealers," Elam said. "Well, the chess players are gone and the drug dealers are still here."
Residents who live near the court said since the boards were removed in spring, drug dealers have become bolder, with no chess players around or the crowds that would gather to watch them.

Copyright 2002, Chicago Tribune