Recreations and Park Commission votes to shut down park for indefinite time
By Dolores Quintana
Santa Monica’s Chess Park, a relic of the days when playing chess games in a park was a popular pastime, will have its signature chess tables and benches removed and the park will be closed for an indefinite period to deal with the safety issues and criminal behavior that have plagued the park for years.
The members of the Recreations and Park Commission have finally voted to take action to deal with the issues that the park has attracted to the neighborhood, as reported by the Santa Monica Daily Press.
Commission Vice Chair Maryanne LaGuardia said, “They’ve already had stabbings, they’ve already had serious injuries, there is active prostitution going on right now. I think the best first step is to close it. I say that with great reluctance, but I don’t know what else we can do.”
Chess Park is located at 1652 Ocean Front Walk and is set on .29 acres of land, just to the east of the famed Santa Monica Pier and Carousel and slightly to the west of the equally famous Muscle Beach workout area. The centerpiece of the park is a life sized chess board with life sized chess pieces that can be checked out to play a game of human sized proportions. Each of the tables is set with anywhere from one to four chess boards to facilitate multiple games per table. It’s a remarkable setup for chess lovers and unfortunately, the unsavory behavior of local unhoused people with violence, sexual activity, mental breakdowns, and tables covered with their belongings has made it difficult for the park to be utilized for its intended purpose.
“Chess Park has been a longstanding subject of discussion at the Recreation and Parks Commission. Commissioners have requested more police patrols, increased engagement from the Homeless Liaison Program and the installation of a blue light emergency call box. None of these changes materialized in an impactful manner,” said Recreation and Parks Chair Lori Brown.
Nearby apartment building residents have not been happy with the conditions of the park and the element that the park has drawn to the area.
“I am calling in because well frankly Chess Park isn’t safe anymore. It used to be one of my favorite places to go, but the last time I did try to go there someone threatened me with physical harm, threatened to kill me,” said 13-year-old resident Lucky Bisary as quoted by the Santa Monica Daily Press.
After the Commission meeting and the testimony from locals, the vote to close the park, remove the tables and benches, and put up a fence around the area was unanimously approved. The thought among the Commission board members is that the park should be updated for new uses, especially because of the upcoming Olympics Beach Volleyball competition that will take place nearby. The Recreation and Parks Commission will vote at a later time on what that use will be after taking into consideration the input from Santa Monica residents. The Santa Monica City Council will make the final determination after hearing the Recreation and Parks Commission findings.