February 22, 2005

Community awaits Checkerboard's opening this spring

Live blues is about to return to Hyde Park. With the date drawing near for the re-opening of the Checkerboard Lounge, a classic Chicago blues establishment, members of the University and Hyde Park communities are anticipating the benefits of the blues joint while lamenting its move from Bronzeville.

The Checkerboard, which will be located in Harper Court at 52nd and Harper Avenue, is slated to open in late spring. Construction is currently underway at the property, said Hank Webber, vice president of Community and Government Relations at the University. Before the club can open, construction needs to be completed and a "public place of entertainment" license must be obtained, Webber said.

Many students are looking forward to the Checkerboard coming to Hyde Park. They see it as good for the entertainment scene in the area, though they recognize the historical significance of the old location—and the fact that Bronzeville residents have become upset by the move.

"I think it will be a good thing for Hyde Park to have a live music venue," said Jayadev Athreya, a fifth-year graduate student studying mathematics. "I don't know how the University got it to move and I know some people in [Bronzeville] were upset about it. But I'll definitely go more often now that it will be in Hyde Park."

The Checkerboard Lounge, which was located on 43rd and State Street was famous as a Bronzeville-neighborhood blues mecca for decades. According to Webber, the club was shut down because of code violations in the building.

A group of Bronzeville residents was working to help the club re-open in the neighborhood, but the University of Chicago offered the owner a lease in the building at 5201 South Harper, according to Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, A.B. '04. The owner of the Checkerboard accepted the lease offer.

Students and Bronzeville residents protested the University's bid to lure the Checkerboard to Hyde Park, Ginsberg-Jaeckle said in an e-mail. The efforts of these students and residents were ultimately unsuccessful.

Hyde Park residents and employees of area businesses recognize this aspect of the move, but said the Checkerboard will be a positive addition to the community. "From a business standpoint it's a good idea, but from a historic standpoint it's too bad," said Rick Herrington, a Hyde Park resident and customer at the Magic Mart on 53rd and Harper. "It's been up there [in Bronzeville] for 40 or 50 years."

Barbara Terrell, working behind the counter at Magic Mart, echoed these sentiments. "Why did it need to move from 43rd?" she asked.

Webber agreed that the move was somewhat unfortunate, but he said that Hyde Park was a better home for the Checkerboard than some other possibilities.

"I share these views," he said. "But better it be in Hyde Park, a diverse South Side community, than that it end up where most of the Chicago blues and jazz community have relocated themselves, which is Lincoln Park." Webber said that the coming of the Checkerboard has been very popular in the Hyde Park community, and is supported by the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park.

Terrell was optimistic about the effect the move would have on the 53rd Street area, even though she was sorry to see the Lounge move out of Bronzeville. "I think it'll bring more people to the area and students from the University," she said.

This hope seems to be justified, given the excitement of some college students. "I really think it's a great idea," said Nick Juravich, a third-year in the College. "It'll give students and the community a new venue with great music."

Neal Patel, a first-year graduate student in sociology, tried to go to the Checkerboard at its previous location in December and found it boarded up. When asked if he'll go to the Checkerboard at its new location, he said, "I'll totally go."