HYDE PARK — Hyde Park residents have successfully driven out people using a children’s playground at the north end of Jackson Park for sex, drinking and drugs, and will cut the ribbon on a new jungle gym on Friday.
In September, a new playground at Dickerson Playlot across from Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St., was delayed and residents began finding empty liquor bottles, women’s underwear, used condoms and feces from people using the park at night.
“We’re still seeing dime bags at Dickerson, but we’re not seeing needles or condoms, which is good,” said Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, who stopped at the park twice a day to clean up after the late-night revelers.
McCurry and others will gather at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the park named for the first black graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Earl Dickerson, to officially cut the ribbon on the new playground.
“They did a nice job with this one,” said Peggy Garrett, who brought her 2-year-old grandson to play on the new playground Tuesday while her 6-month-old grandson napped in a stroller.
As one grandson rotated in dizzying loops on a new spinning seat, Garrett said she did not come to the park at night and did not see firsthand the problems McCurry described, but saw the effect on the playground in the mornings.
“I watch the swings, they knocked them up pretty good before,” Garrett said.
McCurry praised the police officers from the Wentworth District, who monitored the park for six weeks after complaints about drinking, drugs and sex in the park.
In February, Chrysalais Playlot next to Dickerson will get new playground equipment for the first time since Hyde Park residents built the existing slide and bridge for preschool-age kids in the 1970s.
McCurry said the north end of Jackson Park that is cut off from the rest of the park by 57th Street has one more major project to finish, the Iowa Building.
“I’m still picking up shovels of s--- out of the corners every day,” McCurry said of the dolostone pavilion at 1755 E. 56th St.
McCurry said four men have moved into the pavilion since the lights stopped working three years ago and frequently use the corners of the building to do their business.
“If they behaved themselves, I would say, ‘OK, sleep there,’ but they don’t,” McCurry said.
She said the exterior light bulbs were recently replaced, but the timer was broken and the lights would come on during the day and go off at night.
Park activists have struggled to find a use for the former concession stand and pavilion that surrounds a central open-air courtyard with a green-tiled fountain. The structure was set to display the unearthed statue of Germania from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which was discovered during construction of Lake Shore Drive, but plans were scuttled due to lack of funding.
McCurry said the Iowa Building remains one of the few remaining thorny problems at the park. She said after two years of work by police and volunteers, Jackson Park is now clean and safe, and she hopes renewed interest in the Columbian Exposition will bring more people down to the south lakefront park.