- In Pictures
- Meat Market
- Union Square
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | “Game of chess?” The familiar call was ringing out once again on Monday in Washington Square Park’s southwest corner, which was reopened last week after a lengthy renovation.
Earl Biggs, 67, was sitting at one of the sleek new chess tables that ring the plaza, which now sports a circular grass patch in its middle.
“It’s a lot better than it was. It looks better,” said Biggs, seated in front of a chessboard with brown and black wooden pieces. “It’s one less table than before, but it’s better distributed,” he noted of the more-evenly spaced arrangement.
He usually can be found playing Scrabble or bridge at the tables in the park’s northwestern corner, known as the “Scrabble plaza.” But his bridge partner hadn’t shown up, so he was “holding down” the chess table for a friend who was using the bathroom.
Biggs said the chess players who hang out in Union Square’s southern plaza haven’t migrated back to Washington Square, and might not, which is fine with him. The spot in Union Square is open 24 hours, he said, and many of those players are homeless, so that’s better for them, as opposed to Washington Square, which closes at midnight.
Biggs, who lives on E. 11th St., used to run Cafe Creole and a chess club, both on MacDougal St.
“The better players don’t come out anymore — just the hustlers,” he reflected of the Washington Square chess scene. “We used to have great players come from all over the world.”
He offered to play a reporter a game for $10.
According to Vickie Karp, a Parks Department spokesperson, there are now 18 tables versus 19 before.
“The game tables are made from steel with a cast-iron, fluted base with a granite tabletop with an inlaid chess board,” Karp said in an e-mail. “The outer portion of the table is gray granite and the checker board is a black and white granite. The tables are refined and more sleek compared to the ‘clunky’ concrete tables. The tables along the intersections of paths are slightly longer to accommodate a wheelchair and the outer park bench is portable.”
Karp continued, “The previous chess plaza was contained by 3-foot-high concrete retaining walls with light poles attached to the top of these walls. In addition, the landscapes were enclosed by a two-tier pipe rail fencing. The removal of these features creates the illusion of a greener park, in addition to enriching the park’s picturesque setting.
“The reintroduction of historic landscape features — such as the post-and-chain interior fencing, stone curbs and pavements, light poles, benches and perimeter fencing — are all based on the park’s original historic fabric and has restored the park’s historic integrity,” Karp said.
The grass circle in the chess plaza’s center will be planted with annual displays, she added.
Still slated for renovation are the park’s buildings, the large dog run and “The Mounds” play area.