WICKER PARK — It's the end of an era for four built-in chess tables and the people who've long enjoyed using them in Wicker Park's park.
On the same afternoon a stretch of broken and cracked sidewalk near the gaming tables was repaired, concrete foundations were laid Wednesday for four new tables that will replace the existing tables at the southwest entrance to the park.
The existing four concrete gaming tables ignited a controversy in February when a 15-member park advisory council voted nearly unanimously to remove them amid complaints the tables attracted the homeless, gambling and drug use.
The decision was later made to add new tables but in different locations in the park so they weren't concentrated in one place. They will not have built-in chess boards on top.
On Wednesday, park-user Herman Milton, 51, said, "I don't know why they are removing four and replacing four."
"They should have more tables. Sometimes you have over 1,000 people in the park over a weekend [and] you need more than four tables, " said Milton.
An existing picnic table in the park at 1425 N. Damen Ave. will remain.
The four old chess tables were scheduled to be removed Monday, but only after the new tables are installed, said Bill Mecorr, a general contractor whose firm was hired by the Park District to repair the broken sidewalk as well as install the new tables.
Rather than being clustered at an entrance to the park like the existing tables, the four new ones will be scattered throughout the park.
Two tables are scheduled to be installed near a path in "Schiller Grove," just south of the southwest entrance to the park at Schiller and Damen. One table will be installed by the basketball court facing Wicker Park Avenue and another table will be near the northeast entrance to the park.
Two of the four existing gaming tables are located beneath thick shady trees that provide cooling during hot humid days. The other two existing tables are partially shaded.
But of the new tables, two are "in the sun," complained park user Leroy Garry, 72.
Will Chandler, 38, said that while he and his friends plan to play games of cards or dominoes at the new tables, he is prepared to bring his own card table and play in the shade if the sun is too bright.
The Park District's plan to remove the old tables upset some patrons of the park, who believed they were being unfairly targeted.
"It's because we're black. As you can see, no drugs are being dealt here. We've been here all our lives, this is what we do. Other people come drunk in the park, boozing, half naked women on blankets, they don't target them," Chandler said.
Previously, some residents who spend a lot of time in the park said there were bigger problems than the chess tables. Audrey Farrell, a nanny, said "the white vagabond runaway kids" are "a greater threat to the safety of the park" than the men who gather around the chess tables playing dominoes or checkers.
Some neighborhood residents, however, claim they've witnessed drug deals near the tables and there are also complaints about drinking linked to the gatherings, which neighborhood residents pass while entering the park.
Doug Wood of the Wicker Park Advisory Council called the removal of tables "a last-ditch effort to bring the area under control" in a section of the park that's "getting worse and worse."
Meanwhile, workers began repairing a large and deepening crack in a sidewalk near the southwest entrance that some park regulars said has been there for seven years.
Park users said complaints about the crack had long been ignored. The crack made it difficult for some people in wheelchairs to use the park, and even walkers said they had tripped over it.