WICKER PARK — There's fresh mulch covering the ground where four built-in chess tables used to be, and Wicker Park regulars such as Leroy Garry are digesting the change, one day at a time.
Hanging out in the park on a near daily basis since he moved to a CHA senior building across from the park in 2005, the 72-year-old Garry complained earlier this week: "I lost my second chair."
Where the old chess table seats had back supports, the four replacement tables installed this week do not, so Garry says he cannot move from his wheelchair into a seat.
Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said the new tables will allow for wheelchair users to slide up and under them. But she acknowledged that the four new tables installed this week "were not properly installed."
"They will be fixed and rotated at an angle to allow for wheel chair seating," Maxey-Faulkner said.
Maxey-Faulkner said the four new tables are more modern and offer a slightly larger surface.
Two new tables have been installed near the southwest corner of the park, about 50 feet south of where the four chess tables were located and abutting a path around a fountain. The other two replacement tables are elsewhere in the park, with one near the basketball court and another across from the children's playground.
The location of two of the tables has caused the park regulars to be deeper inside the park rather than clustered at the southwest entrance.
"Now we're invading the sun bathers and the Frisbee throwers," Daniel Davis, 19, said.
The four cement gaming tables ignited controversy in February when a 15-member park advisory council voted nearly unanimously to remove them, a decision which prompted an alderman to call for a community meeting to discuss the future of the tables as well as crime and safety issues in the park.
The chess tables were often used by the homeless, local residents and seniors to play cards and dominoes. There were also complaints about drug use and crime linked to the gatherings, which neighborhood residents pass while entering the park.
Doug Wood, secretary of the Wicker Park Advisory Council, said Wednesday that removing the tables was "one item on a nine-part project" which includes adding weekend security personnel to patrol the park. Our Urban Times documented all nine of the items.
Wood sent an email Thursday to Park District representatives thanking them for repairing a broken sidewalk, installing the new tables and hiring Claribel Rodriguez, a new supervisor for the park at 1425 N. Damen Ave.
The position had been vacant since Juan "Dan" Puente stepped down in April.
In a statement, Faulkner said: "The Chicago Park District works diligently to respond to the needs of its patrons and communities. The removal and replacement of the chess table were done with the input from the local alderman, advisory council and community members."