Checkerboard Lounge question and and consequences for inter- community and University-community relations; Checkerboard, Hyde Park Jazz Society, and Jerry Kleiner's Park 52 Restaurant

A service of Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Development and Preservation task force, and the HPKCC website, Help support our work: Join the Conference!

Checkerboard Lounge, 5201 S. Harper, 773 684-1472.

Hyde Park Jazz Society (Checker JAZZ ) for several years hosted Sunday night and special events at Checkerboard Lounge. Check the HPJS website and calendar to find where they are now (for at least 5 weeks starting June 27 moved to Room 43. 1039 E. 43rd St. ):

Be sure to visit the Jazz and other Music Scene section and the Rock Scene section in the Cultural Calendar-- venues and events.

53rd Street TIF News-An HPKCC perspective. TIF News home. TIF Advisory Council Meetings (November 10, 2003, at which the announcement was made by U of C).
More general background: General Development Policy
. Tracking Community Trends
Community and Neighborhood News. HPKCC News. The Harper Court story.
Harper Theater.


Checkerboard Lounge and Hyde Park Jazz Society went separate ways in June 2009.

Jerry Kleiner restaurant: The restaurant, renamed Park 52, held a soft opening in the 2nd week of April 2008. The site includes a major re landscaping and entry on Harper and a moderate to upscale "steak and" menu. As quoted in the February 6 Herald, Kleiner said "Right now, we are working on paying fees, getting permits and city inspections. We should be open no later than March 10." Kleiner and partner Mac Brooks (a Hyde Parker) told the Herald park 52 isan upscale eating place for the professional crowd, serving steaks, salads, fish and soups for dinner and add brunch and lunch menu items at a later date.

In spring 2009, while the restaurant is forced to be nimble and innovative like everyone else in this economy, it says it is holdin gits own and will introduce more dinign options including lunch offerings, patio seating, wwkly jazznight, Sunday brunch, lunch starting ist weekend in July, and Wednesday bargains for UC students. The say "come on in" to restaurateurs with innovative concepts.

The Magic Man: Restaurateur Jerry Kleiner arrives in Hyde Park

Chicago Weekly News, February 14, 2008. by Lisa Berg

...the mogul of such heavy-hitting eateries like Giocco, Opera, March, Red Light, and now, Park 52, located in Harper Court at 52nd Street, and scheduled to pen in early March 20008. Given Kleiner's characteristic belatedness, April seems like a more plausible opening date.

The buzz about 52 is justified- the blog Hyde Park Progress is particularly enamored of the place--because or Jerry Kleiner's history. The man has been cited as the catalyst for the development of the South Loop restaurant district with his Opera, Giocco, and Room 21, all higher-class eateries catering to a more affluent clientele, unusual for the far South Loop. Room 21 is located a stone's throw from a Chicago Housing Authority housing project, and Harper Court isn't exactly West Loop, either. One would think that people willing to drop up to a hundred or so on a meal for two wouldn't dare venture out to the South Loop, or even Hyde Park--but Kleiner se, to have succeeded in extracting those people out of downtown.

Unc0mmon neighborhood Choices are what Kleiner's restaurants are known for. Yet, he says that he's not parading into Hyde Park on his high horse: "I'm not creating any big waves like, well I'm coming inhere, I'm the messiah. I felt there was a need in the community [for Park 52]," citing "tremendous neighborhood interest." Originally named Hyde Park Grille, the new place was renamed Park 52 after resident complained that the name was "too common." The classic American restaurant is on 52nd and Harper, at the end of Harper Court, and he alludes to the many parks in and around Hyde Park--Washngton Park, Nichols Park, Jackson Park, not to mention Hyde Park's title--in his name selection.

The choice of location was inspired by his habit of visiting different neighborhoods in Chicago, and Kleiner calls himself "a studier of Chicago history ... I know Hyde Park really well, and it has tremendous history." He says that he eats out seven meals a week, and used to drive through Hyde Park "and try to find places to eat; there's never very many." He is fond of La Petit Folie and, more unexpectedly, Rajun Cajun. Still, he didn't "find a restaurant in Hyde Pak that really has a bar setting, comfort food American stuff that's done [by a] chef and presented well, like in some of my other restaurants." He envisions the restaurant as having a "clubby sort of feeling," where people from the community can come together.

Despite his insistence that he's "not looking to stir any waves," when Park 52 was first announced in early 2006, people expected Kleiner to wave his wand again over the Hyde Park restaurant scene. But delays plagued the development of the restaurant , each time pushing the grand opening further into the future. This may have been compounded by th fact that Kleiner, at any given moment, is working on at least a half-dozen projects at a time.

Park 52 is his seventh restaurant with his KDK restaurant group (one of his many groups), and he estimates that he's built around forty buildings since 1982. As for projects on the horizon it seems best to let the man speak for himself: "I've got multiple projects. I'm designing hotels; I'm doing stuff all over the world. So Hyde Park will be the seventh, and I got a place in Hinsdale opening up this summer, that's eighth, and doing a place on North Wells Street, that's nine, and Chicago Illuminating company, a big banquet facility, that's my tenth project. I have y own design and manufacturing company." He adds, I'm building Carnivales in a few place in a few places, one in Orlando, one in Atlanta, and one in the Bahamas. Working on stuff in Las Vegas, in Dubai... besides, I'm working on three hotel projects, with restaurants in those hotels. So that's the short list."

Kleiner attributes Park 52's delay between conception and construction to bui8ldign problems, explaining that it was a "very difficult building .. it's a concrete structure--the whole building is concrete." He seems to have run into the same problem as Hyde Park Produce, another buzz-laden business in Hyde Park that faced manor delays because of deficiencies in the original structure. He complains, "There was nothing there. we had to dig out major trenches, and this and that. The construction was very difficult."

The finished product is a handsome blue-bricked building right behind the Checkerboard Lounge. Kleiner is known for the design of his restaurants, and his hope with Park 52 is "to achieve something that has history, something that won't offend the community at all ... a very comfortable, stylish place... Not sterile, not modern, but warm." He claims that Park 52 will be "priced reasonably, affordable for the community, not downtown prices.. you want people to feel that they can eat at this place like two or three times a week.": The menue includes "Great Caesar salads, blue cheese wedges, chicken, fish, meat, meatloaf, shrimp"-- standard grill fare. He later specifies that the entree prices will be in the teens to high 30s, so it seems like Park 52 clientele from the community will probably end up being professors, grad students, and professionals.

In many ways, Kleiner's prognostications are spot-on: "I think it's a great community it's just ready to take off. It's been a sleepy little community for many years." He approves of the closure of the Co-op, joining the ranks of most of the University community. "That co-op, I've been in there a couple times and it's just embarrassing, the quality of their product. What's the point of that, when you're endangering people's lives by serving bad food that's handled improperly?" The indignation then turns into a tinge of condescension: "I think it's time for the community to start elevating itself."



Checkerboard Schedule call. Phone 773 684-1472 after 5 pm.

Telephone reservations accepted. Seats 135-215. Note: no under-21. Cover charge varies. We found no lack of parking spaces in the City Lot, 53rd and Lake Park (quarters,).


Sundays 7:30-11 with Jabon Jazz or other groups. To book acts, call Ms. Acklin at 773 447-5827.

Saturays- see and be seen dress up night "Intimacy." 10 pm-3 am. 21 and over. Discounted entry and bottle services. DJ music.


Nearly four years ago, November 18, 2005, 6-9 pm, The Checkerboard and Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park (Hyde Park Jazz Society) hosted an opening and ribbon-cutting party by Committee to Restore Jazz in Hyde Park, the University of Chicago and Ald. Preckwinkle. U of C President Don Randel was honored. Performers include Malachi Thompson, Beth Pickens, Africa Brass JAZZ Orchestra, Willie Pickens Trio, Maggie Brown and Trio, Jimmy Ellis Quartet--and President Randel played a jazz tune!.

And by November 2006, the Hyde Park Jazz Society had gotten its act together with the Checkerboard to start a great lineup of Sunday evening Jazz sets, which started Nov. 19 with the Ken Chaney Xperience.

From the Program book of the Opening Gala-Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park (soon to be incorporated as a Society)

With the "New Checkerboard Lounge of Blues and Jazz," jazz begins its return to Hyde Park. Although the Checkerboard will continue its tradition as primarily a blues club, its owner, L.C. Thurman has agreed to provided two nights of jazz with the possibility of more if a clear demand from the community makes itself known. The Committee... is enthusiastic about this agreement with its owner, and believes the arrival of the Checkerbaord will begin to usher in a new era of jazz and blues in Hyde Park. We salute L.C. Thurman and his Checkerboard Lounge as its arrival signals the end of a long dry spell and the begin ing of restoration of good music to Hyde Park.

Many Chicago jazz enthusiasts will remember when the South Side of Chicago was the center of jazz in the Midwest. Hyde Park was a part of this rich history of jazz; during the 1940s and 1950s, jazz flourished here and in our neighboring Woodlawn community. Hyde Park and Woodlawn became the center of jazz for the City of Chicago and arguably the Midwest. It was an era when the great jazz musicians of the day played on 47th and Drexel at he Sutherland Hotel, and the legendary Bee Hive Lounge on 55th Street, along with the Pershing Lounge on 63rd Street. There were many smaller clubs on 51st, 53rd, and 63rd Streets, where you could listen to jazz on any given weekend until 4 or even 5 am in the morning. It wa an era when the great jazz musicians of the day, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and many, many others played to huge standing room only crowds who came to Hyde Park and Woodlawn to hear the best jazz sounds of those days. As one "old timer" has said, Hyde Park/Woodlawn was where it all happened...there was nothing but jazz everywhere you went. It was wonderful."

Sadly, the University of Chicago, fearful of what it perceived as a declining Hyde Park community that would endanger the University and its students and faculty, decided to use Urban Renewal, often called "Urban Removal" in the 1950s and removed every jazz site in Hyde Park. This act, along with the economic decline of Woodlawn, brought to a close wonderful music and the rich tradition of jazz with a musical and interracial vitality that thrived for decades in Hyde Park.

Happily, we are now poised for a new musical era. Jazz veterans who remember those glory days, and a new breed of jazz enthusiasts have come together to bring back jazz to Hyde Park. Among them are jazz pianist Willie Pickens, trumpeter and band leader Malachi Thompson, saxophonist and band leader Jimmy Ellis, pianist Bethany Pickens, and singer Kurt Elling and Maggie Brown. In addition, we salute the President of the University of Chicago, Don Randel, who has supported and believed in our cause. Without him, this Grand Opening Celebration of blues and jazz in Hyde Park would not be possible.

The Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park welcomes everyone to this historic and momentous celebration. It is indeed the beginning of a new era, and the future looks extremely promising for jazz revival in Hyde Park!


Opening coverage- in deeper context

From Chicago Maroon Nov. 22 2005. By Kat Glass

The checkered stage was shining new and a red carpet grace the entrance, but the Checkerboard Lounge's grand-opening fundraiser friday sang a nostalgic tune. while organizers and performers expressed their hope that the new club would bring about a musical renaissance, they fondly remembered the golden era of the '50s when the South Side of Chicago was an epicenter of jazz and blues.

The Checkerboard's opening at the University-owned property on 5201 South Harper Avenue finalized effort of the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park and the University to open the club in Hyde Par, after owner L.C. Thurman had to close his club and move out of the Bronzeville location in spring 2003.

As audience members clapped, Jim Wagner, chair of the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, reeled off some of the former hot spots for jazz and blues....[saying Hyde Parkers were] poised, we think, for a new era of jazz music in Yee Park.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony [L.C. Thurman, Hank Webber, Jo Reizner, Ald. Preckwinkle], participants came inside to enjoy a reception with an open bar and jazz.... Malachi Thompson and his Africa Brass JAZZ Orchestra kick-started the music with "The Panther," a song Thompson said was based on Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL). Thompson echoes others' disbelief and satisfaction about the venue's long-awaited opening in Hyde Park: "They said it couldn't be done. They said they couldn't bring jazz down to the South Side, but here we are," said Thompson.

Sitting front and center, President of the University Don Randel became somewhat of a star for the evening. At one point, Thurman asked if he could shake Randel's hand. "you my man," Thurman said.

Wagner credited Randel with being crucial to bringing the Checkerboard to Hyde Park. He praised the president as someone "who truly believes there is excellence in diversity."...

Randel remembered his initial feelings about the neighborhood's lack of musical venues. "I said, 'You know, Hyde Park needs a few more joints.' Rudy Nimocks..was a little nervous about that. but ten I explained what I meant," he said. Surprising the crowd, Wagner announced that randel would be performing on the piano with some members of the Africa Brass..Randel prefaced his act with a bit of self-mockery, calling himself a "tired old white guy." "I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea." "You guys play really loud." ...Randal drew heavy applause after a rendition of "How High Is the Moon."

Singer Maggie Brown, daughter of the legendary Oscar Brown, Jr., had some of her own memories to share....


From Chicago Weekly News Nov. 24, 2005. By Emily Capo

The Checkerboard Lounge re-opened Friday in its new Hyde Park location. In the bustle of the grand opening, people trickled in a few at a time with great anticipation and big smiles. At 6 o'clock, the music started--a bass and piano jam session- while cocktails and hors d'oeuvres were served. It was a pretty snazzy shindig for the club's opening.

At seven o'clock, Malachi Thompson and is Africa Brass JAZZ Orchestra took the stage. Thompson, before introducing the band said, "There has been a lot of controversy about opening up a place like this in the neighborhood, but now it's here and if you ask me it's for the best."

How could there be controversy about opening a place like this? The room was occupied by people of multiple races and backgrounds who came together to enjoy the musical heritage of the Southside. Looking around the room and considering the history of jazz and blues on the South Side was more than enough to understand why this occasion was momentous and unique. Photographs and posters of the old days of the original Checkerboard Lounge--where famous names such as Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and the Rolling Stones once played--cove the walls of the renewed club. Around the door are yellowed headshots of blues and jazz performers who once entertained the crowds till four in the morning. The occasion was momentous, certainly, but controversial? To understand that requires a look at the Checkerboard's history.

The diverse crowd at the Friday night opening was actually anomalous when it comes to the Checkerboard's history. According to one longtime patron, back around 1980 there was a difference in the daytime and nighttime audiences. during the day, local neighborhood residents, mostly African-American, came to the club. At night, there was a shift to a younger Caucasian crowd from the north side--the kind of crowd found at most city blues clubs. While in the day, neighbors would dress casually and play cards while players jammed, the scene would change dramatically at night, when blues fans would dress up to come to the lounge.

Originally opened in August 1972, located in Bronzeville on Forty-third Street, the Checkerbaord Lounge quickly became one of the most famous Chicago Blues clubs, known as a place in the South Side where audiences felt comfortable. Bronzeville was also home to Theresa's Lounge, another important establishment in Chicago blues history; the neighborhood was noted for housing places of great music. By 2003, the original Checkerboard building had fallen into disrepair, and the city closed it down. L.C. Thurman, the club's owner, after disagreement with his landlord, and despite many protestations, took up th offer to relocate to Hyde Park with the help of the University of Chicago and the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park. The move itself, then, was one source of controversy in recent years.

Hyde Park, before the original Checkerboard opened in Bronzeville, was one of the main meeting places of Chicago blues and jazz in the 1940s and '50s. Many great venues were located in Hyde Park and Woodlawn...[Urban Renewal, U C policy and other trends ended this in the late '50s and '60s.]....

Yet another source of controversy is the type of music to be played at the lounge. While the owner and many fans want it to be strictly blues, they are under heavy pressure to host jazz performances a few night of the week. L.C. Thurman wants to have Blue Mondays, which used to be incredibly popular an lasted all day long--just blues. Though the new Blue Mondays likely will not last the whole day, it is an exciting prospect that will provide historical perspective. according to [Jim] Wagner [head of the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, a pivotal group in bringing the Checkerboard], the University agreed to help Thurman move to the new location on the condition that jazz be offered in conjunction with blues. However, if there is not enough support to continue this, it will once again become "blues only." Willie Pickens, one of the performers and a member o the one point offered his hope that this could be a place where jaz and blues would "coexist."

Despite the varied sources of tension surrounding the Lounge's move to Hyde Park, the Checkerboard is now up and running. The tables donated by the University appropriately have built-in checkerboards, and the stage is tiled in a red and black checker pattern. The bartenders flip their bottles and the musicians close their eyes to better hear the lead of the piano. The new location shows promise to become part of a revived nightlife scene with a traditional neighborhood flair. The club will be open daily, in hopes that it will attract neighborhood crowds as it had in the past, to come to play cards an listen to great live music while enjoying the atmosphere.

Friday night's crowd, to be sure, was fascinating to watch in its diversity. There were young folks, excited to delve into this thing called blues; there were older folks who spoke of the early days, constantly comparing the old with the new; there were groups of people, standing with drinks in hand, talking about what a great thing it was to have a place like this in Hyde Park; there were people sitting alone, nursing their drinks, waiting for the music to start. The musicians in the crowd were easily identifiable; their effects- pinstriped suits, red bowties, dangling dreadlocks, sequined dressers, loud lipstick--seeking to radiate throughout the room...


Will jazz survive at the Checkerboard and in Hyde Park/

The first forays into jazz at the Checkerboard (Sundays at 7:30 and some specials) have not drawn the turnout hoped for. Willie Pickens, who is the lead performer at the December 16 jazz concert at Hyde Park Union Church, told the Herald in mid-December, "It's an uphill climb. Now we are trying to see if we can infuse a little jazz into the [Checkerboard.] It hasn't really taken off. We need an organization that can bring it to the neighborhood and get to the people who are really jazz lovers." Jim Wagner, who is working to incorporate his Committee to Restore Jazz and was a catalyst both in bringing the Checkerboard to Hyde Park and in having a jazz night at the Checkerboard but whose organization was behind the curve in being able to mount publicity, said, "Even if jazz hasn't caught on we still have some place to go." After the Christmas holiday, Wagner's committee will consider whether they should suspend jazz night at the Checkerboard.

Another venue for jazz--WHPK- "Tundi" on Saturday mornings.


The Checkerboard journey is a good story of neighborhood and inter-neighborhood positioning, redevelopment and rivalries--and a tale of how difficult it is to get through the city's hoops. It also ties into University and Community relations and collaboration.

Here are excepts from a few of many pre opening articles on the Checkerboard

From the November 3 Sun-Times. By Jeff Johnson

After two years of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, all the pieces have fallen into place for reopening of the Checkerboard Lounge in a Hyde Park shopping center. The world-famous club, which now will feature live jazz as well as blues, is planning a four-day grand opening beginning Nov. 17.

Through the efforts of the Committee to Restore Jazz in Hyde Park, a 10-year-old group of jazz lovers in the South Side neighborhood, the new Checkerboard Lounge for Blues and Jazz has secured space in University of Chicago-owned property at 5201 S. Harper. The site formerly housed a Women's Workout World and a pet shop.

One of the last bastions of live blues on the South Side, the Checkerboard was owned by blues great Buddy Guy in the 1970s and early 80's. the club hosted memorable jam sessions featuring visiting rockers such as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton as well as blues legends Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and Guy*, who gave up his interest after a dispute with the building's landlord. L.C. Thurman became the proprietor , and continues in that capacity at he new location. Guy went on to open Buddy Guy's Legends in the South Loop. [* Others included B.B. King, Led Zeppelin.]

The old Checkerboard, 423 E. 43rd St., was such a landmark in the Bronzeville neighborhood that the city designated several blocks of 43rd as "Muddy Waters Drive." But the building fell into disrepair, with the walls structurally unsound and the ceiling sagging. It was closed by the city in 2003, and news that the club might reopen in Hyde Park rather than Bronzeville was greeted with picketing in December 2003 by a group called Friends of the Checkerboard. Opposition to the move faded when Thurman's efforts to relocate in Bronzeville were unsuccessful.

Jim Wagner, president of the Committee to Restore Jazz, said U. of C. President Don Michael Randel, who plays jazz piano, has been instrumental in securing the space for the new Checkerboard. "The University is very happy because their student won't have to travel north [for blues]," Wagner said. "They're within walking distance now. And we hope to stimulate interest in music in Hyde Park. Some of the restaurants should be more receptive to having jazz."

Thurman has assured Wagner's group tha the will present jazz entertainment at least twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday evenings. As in the Checkerboard's heyday, the club will offer live music nightly. With rare exceptions, this will be the first venue for live jazz in 25 years in Hyde Park, a onetime jazz bastion, Wagner said. Although he could think of no other Chicago clubs that mix blues and jazz, Wagner said the marriage of the two styles should work well. "Most clubs are either jazz or blues, but they're so closely related, as the musicians in our group point put, you can change the tempo and a jazz piece can become blues instantaneously," he said. ...


May 10, 2004, TIF Advisory Council heard UC VP Comm Affairs on the Harper space: CheckerBoard contract signed and signed restaurant (Jerry Kleiner's special-theme chain: Vivo, Marche..). Mr. Thurman said how glad he is. Details follow. Checkerboard started construction in January and should open summer, 2005 pending public entertainment license. Many, even those regretting its move, have told various reporters they intend to go and think it will help 53rd St.

. The Chicago Maroon April 29 reports that Checkerboard construction is complete according to Jim Wagner, Committee to Restore Jazz in Hyde Pak. "All of the work that is necessary has been done." Jo Reizner, UC Real Estate Office, says the lounge is still waiting on liquor and public space amusement licenses.

According to Wagner, the lounge will be open 7 days a week evening til early morn., full bar but no smoking. Minimum age has not been decided. It will have both blues (currently more popular among students) and jazz, favored by the oldsters. This will be the first club opening in over 209 years. The greater area was once the center of jazz and blues in the midwest.

For a more news update see Development.


Checkerboard work to begin Jan. 1, '05

Hyde Park Herald, December 8, 2004. By Jeremy Adragna

Construction of the new Checkerboard Lounge on Harper Court [started early January,] 2005, said University of Chicago officials, who predict a late spring opening. The Checkerboard, owned by Hyde Parker L.C. Thurman, formerly stood at 423 E. 43rd St. from 1972 to April 2003, when the city shut it down because the building was deemed unsafe.

Plans to move the nightclub to Hyde Park and spawn an entertainment district inside Harper Court were announced a year ago by University of Chicago Vice President of Community Affairs Hank Webber. In November 2003, Webber said an "upscale American restaurant" and the Checkerboard will be built side-by-side in the former Women's Workout World, 5201 S. Harper Ave. The new construction would create an entertainment zone for Hyde Parkers, Webber said.

Two leases have been signed. A Harper Grille restaurant will be built on the west end of the building and the Checkerboard will occupy the east portion of the building. Entrances to both will face inside Harper Court to the south.

U. of C. Director of Real estate Operations Jo Reizner said this week that the Checkerboard is poised to begin construction , but still needs permit approval by the city. Construction will, nonetheless, begin no later than Jan. 1, she said. "What Mr. Thurman will do is have the place very similar in feel and decor to the original Checkerboard," Reizner said of construction plans for the club's exterior. "That's the only thing that will be jazzed up."

Reizner also said construction for the Harper Grille, co-owned by Jerry Kleiner and Marc Brooks, will not start as soon. "They are significantly behind in their planning," Reizner said. "They have been focusing on some other places they have opened."

The famous blues club was opened by Thurman and Chicago musician Buddy Guy in the early 1970s and has since gained national attention. An ill-fated attempt at keeping the historic business in Bronzeville and out of the University's hands fell short last year when Thurman himself demanded protesters end the fight.


Checkerboard to open by Springtime, Construction will begin soon for Hyde Park's new jazz joint says Chicago Maroon of November 12, 2004.

by Carl Pickerill

By the time students return from winter break, construction will have begun on the future home of the Checkerboard Lounge, Hyde Park's first live all-jazz locale in 20 years. University Director of Real Estate Jo Reizner said that the University expects construction to start within the next few weeks, and that the Checkerboard Lounge should be open by the spring.

Reizner would not disclose the name of the contractor, as a contract has not yet officially been signed. "We have the permit for construction and we've selected a contractor," Reizner said. "The owner, L.C. Thurman, must still apply for and be granted two different licenses--a liquor license and a public place of amusement license."

When Thurman receives the licenses, he hopes to reap the benefits of the University's desire to see more cultural venues in Hyde Park. Thurman will be leasing the building from the University at a rate considerably less than market value.

Reizner said she attributes the long period between Thurman's decision to move the Checkerboard and the approval of the building permit to a long lease negotiation process. Since the University leases the building from Harper Court, the Checkerboard's relocation required the approval of the Harper Court board as well. "There were quite a few more steps involved than if it were a single transaction between us and a single party leasing the space," Reizner said.

The Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, a community group that advocated the relocation of the Checkerboard to Hyde Park, a community group that advocated the relocation of the Checkerboard to Harper Court, had originally hoped for a grand opening around the holidays. Jim Wagner, committee chairman, said such a prediction might be "too optimistic." "My understanding is that once they start working, it will not take too long to do the necessary work," Wagner said."We are planning for an eventual grand opening that will last about a week. We just need to receive word from Mr. Thurman and Ms. Reizner to know when it can actually occur."

Thurman would not release details of the Checkerboard's current status. He said he had just received the building permit from the city and that further developments "shouldn't be too long in coming."

When asked if the opening of the Checkerboard might occur in conjunction with larger commercial development in other buildings, like the Meridian Theatre, Thurman said to ask him in a couple of weeks. While Reizner alluded to the Checkerboard developments as "ostensibly being the beginning of more of the same," she said that there are no concrete plans as of yet to make more commercial additions to Harper Court.

Reizner confirmed that future opening of a restaurant at the Checkerboard's top floor. Restauranteur Jerry Kleiner, the owner of Marche, Vivo, Cioco, Opera, and Saiki, plans to open an upscale restaurant in Harper Court.

Wagner said Kleiner first introduced his plans to build a new restaurant two months ago at a meeting the [South East Chicago Commission? 53rd St. TIF Advisory Council? Definitely not HPKCC]. ...Wagner said Mark Brooks, owner of a U.S. Cellular outlet in Hyde Park, will assist Kleiner in establishing the restaurant....




CheckerBoard final signing for Harper space, co-tenant announced at May 10, 2004 53rd TIF meeting.

On May 10, 2004, six months to the day after UC Vice President announced to a full hall last November that a letter of intent was signed to move and install the CheckerBoard Lounge from 43rd to Harper Court, Webber appeared with CheckerBoard owner L.C. Thurman to announce inking of a final lease for the former legendary blues club to move into the space formerly occupied by Women's Workout World. The 40 or so at the 53rd TIF Advisory Council meeting heartily applauded. No one attended from the Bronzeville opposition group Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge.

Thurman said, "I'm not an eloquent fellow, but I just wanted to say I look forward to being part of this community." Buildout and occupation schedule were unavailable but reported as "soon as possible."

Meanwhile, Jerry Kleiner, owner and operator of theme restaurants Marche, Vivo, Cioco, Opera, Saiki... has teamed up with (former?) Hyde Parker and present U.S. Cellular outlet owner Mark Brooks to bring a theme restaurant to the former Hyde Park Pet part of the same Harper Court building whose term lease was bought by the University at a steep price from the Hyde Park (Markets) Cooperative Society. The pair promises reasonably-priced mainstream American cuisine. The two venues are are expected to contribute to a growing Hyde Park nightlife district.

For some deep background on historical resonances of restoring such to Hyde Park, visit the Urban Renewal page.

For the role of such developments and more development in tax increment funding and backing for a parking garage, see TIF News and sub pages.

For index to the CheckerBoard controversy coverage, return to top of this page. For coverage of the November 10 announcements see 53rd St. TIF News and TIF Advisory Council Meetings.


About the controversy and coverage

The University of Chicago in November 2003 signed a letter of intent with Mr. L.C. Thurman, owner of the Checkerboard Blues Lounge, to negotiate relocating the club from its closed location on 43rd St. to vacant space in Harper Court (leasehold owned by the University) as a blues and jazz club. (UC VP Hank Webber May 3 told the TIF Planning Committee the contract is being inked.) TIA major mediator was the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, led by Jim Wagner. The University would renovate the space and offer a substantially discounted lease. Mr. Thurman is enthusiastic about the offer. After all this became evident in early fall, 2003, a group known as Friends of the Checkerboard led by Bernard Loyd, mounted a strong campaign to reverse the efforts and reopen the lounge in Bronzeville, preferably at its present location, said to be undergoing renovation with its landlord having had a change of heart. By mid-December, the Friends' campaign involved confrontational rallies on the U of C campus. And members of both neighborhoods began acting as if the other neighborhood had poked theirs in the eye. Hyde Parkers appear to have taken an honest and sympathetic look at the complaint of our neighbors to the north, and concluded that the actions of Mr. Thurman, the Jazz committee, and the University are appropriate and a step forward, Most of us hope this will be a wake up call that the we need to respect our differences and distinctiveness but act more as one South Side. (The new initiatives for revitalization of schools and neighborhoods just to the north of Hyde Park from the Dan Ryan to the Lake provide such an opportunity if handled sensitively.) - Gary Ossewaarde

The following articles, letters, and reports spell out the details and show the varying perceptions. The letter of Jim Wagner sets forth the record on much of the background. Long-time activist and organizer (and often University opponent) Sam Ackerman spells out the "Hyde Park side". Both have long been associated with HPKCC. Preceding these is a Tribune letter expressing the views of Conference president George Rumsey. A letter with opposing views is also included here. That there remains strong disagreement on facts and chronology and at the Bronzeville group retains a strong sense of betrayal was evident at the April 10 Urbanism Conference with President Randel. No finality had been achieved at that time.


Checkerboard proprietor crashes U. of C. protest

Hyde Park Herald, December 17, 2003. By Todd Spivak

Blues battle: Bronzeville activist Dr. Bernard the University of Chicago's Sonya earful as Checkerboard Lounge owner L.C. Thurman looks on at last Wednesday's protest held on the school's campus at 58th Street and Ellis Avenue. Toward the end of the demonstration, held to dissuade the U. of C. from relocating the Checkerboard to Hyde Park, Thurman seized the bullhorn and told the picketers to "go home."

A group of some three dozen Bronzeville homeowners and University of Chicago students picketed the school's campus in Hyde Park last week, assailing the university for foiling grass-roots efforts to keep the Checkerboard Lounge at it original 43rd Street location.

But to their surprise, Checkerboard owner L.C. Thurman, who has kept a low-profile in recent weeks, showed up to protest against the protest. "I make the decision for what I want to do, where I want to go," bellowed Thurman into a bullhorn on the steps of the university's main administration building at 5801 S. Ellis Ave. "I appreciate you all coming, but you came in vain. Please go home."

The crowd, some of whom held signs reading "Support the Checkerboard in Bronzeville" and "U. of . C.: Respect your neighbors," jeered at Thurman's plea as one woman, Eloise Bins of South Shore, called him a "sell-out."

The confrontation occurred last Wednesday afternoon in the school's main quadrangle, shortly after a university official was drawn into a finger-pointing, shouting match with a Bronzeville activist as media crews from across the city snapped photographs and recorded the angry rhetoric.

"Sonya Malunda, you lied to me; you said the university was not stealing the Checkerboard Lounge," charged Bernard Loyd, organizer of community group Friends of the Checkerboard, to the university's assistant vice president of community and governmental affairs. Malunda retorted, "It is Mr. Thurman's decision, and we support him on this decision.

The university is negotiating with Thurman to relocate his celebrated blues club from 423 E. 43rd St. in Bronzeville to the former home of Women's Workout World at the north end of Harper Court, 5201 S Harper Ave.

Activists like Loyd say the university is "stealing" the club by offering Thurman a deal too good to refuse. Thurman confirmed a last Wednesday's protest that the university would renovate the building free of cost and rent him the space at $7 per square foot, which is less than half the market rate. "The university is looking out for me and what I want to do," said Thurman, 65, who lives on the west side of Nichols Park.

Earlier this year, Thurman had a falling out with his former landlord, Bronzeville resident Murphy Hughes, after Hughes bumped his rent up $500 while neglecting the building that housed the Checkerboard. City inspectors ordered the club shut down in April for a litany of code violations.

Activists are lobbying Thurman to accept a new deal being offered by Murphy, who is reportedly repairing the building and offering Thurman to re-open there at a rental cost of $15 per square foot, roughly $3,200 per month. But Thurman has given up on his former "slumlord," saying, "I've had enough problems with Murphy Hughes. I want to go to Harper Court. I've made my decision." Hughes did not return Herald phone calls.

Thurman said his Hyde Park location will be slightly larger that the original, with an occupancy level of 260 as compared to 200. But he wants to preserve the "look and feel" of the club he opened with then-partner Buddy Guy in 1972 by decorating the place with the original long, narrow tables and chairs and memorabilia, which have been moved to a storage unit on 63rd Street.

Members of Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge said they will continue to protest the university despite objections from the club's proprietor. That's because, according to the group, the so-called "800-pound gorilla of the South Side" needs to be kept in line. "We fear what the university is going to do next," said Bronzeville activist Sokoni Karanja, who heads the social service agency Center for New Horizons. "We fear this is the first step in a series of steps done without community input. The University of Chicago has such deep pockets, they act like they don't really have to respond to anyone."

University officials and Thurman said a lease agreement would likely be finalized shortly after the holidays.


Blues landmark

Chicago Tribune, December 18, 2003. Letter by George Rumsey, President, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

This is regarding [Tribune article] "Blues landmark 'stolen' by U. of C., critics say; Bronzeville club plans to reopen in Hyde Park" (Metro, Dec. 11.) To accuse the University of Chicago of cultural "stealing" is a disingenuous attempt to capitalize on the demise of the Checkerboard Lounge. The Bronzeville neighbors of the Checkerboard who are now protesting should have done much more to support the blues bar before it was forced to close.

We should all rejoice that a rich cultual legacy such as the Checkerboard can be preserved and maintained, even if it is a few blocks south of its original home. Kudos to the University of Chicago.


Checkerboard owner asked for U. of C.'s help

Hyde Park Herald, December 17, 2003. Letter By Jim Wagner, Chair, Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park

First and foremost, the University of Chicago is not "stealing " the Checkerboard Lounge from any person or any community. L.C. Thurman owns the Checkerboard Lounge, and only he will determine where it will be housed. Secondly, and equally important, the university did not seek the Checkerboard, the Checkerboard, i.e., L.C. Thurman, sought the university. I know this to be true because we, the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, were the primary instigators of this "dastardly" deed.

Earlier this year we learned of the closing of the Checkerboard on 43rd Street. Articles in the Reader and other publications quoted the desperation of Mr. Thurman after he was forced to close the club because of roof and plumbing problems, and an unresponsive landlord. As chair of the committee, I arranged to meet with Mr. Thurman. He reiterated his sense of desperation, and stated that unless he found a new site or had a letter of intent for a site by November of this year, he would lose his liquor license and be out of business, and the Checkerboard would be closed for good. Mr. Thurman further indicated that he had tried to find another site in Bronzeville, but had no success. He had been offered two sites by the Alderman of the Third Wad, but both were hopelessly unsatisfactory. L.C. Thurman and the Checkerboard were in dire straits. He was seeking help to save the club, his business, wherever he could find it.

This led me to my agenda. I described the Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, its members and its obvious mission. I explained how we came into being. Prompted by the rich history of jazz in Hyde Park during the 1940s nd 1950s when jazz flourished on 51st, 53rd and 55th Streets, Hyde Park was not only the center of jazz for the City of Chicago, but indeed the Midwest. Sadly, the university used urban renewal and removed every jazz site in Hyde Park. Our efforts to revive jazz have met with only partial success, with jazz concerts at the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago and the DuSable Museum. All efforts to establish a jazz club had failed.

I asked L.C if he would consider a "New Checkerboard Lounge"—one that would be both a blues and jazz venue. He responded with great enthusiasm, stating that he was a friend of Willie Pickens, the renowned jazz musician, who is a member of the committee. L.C. also indicated that he loved jazz. We agreed that jazz and blues were extremely compatible, that you could hardly have the one without the other, I further told him of the participation of the university on the committee, and described its members, who include Oscar Brown, Jr, Willie Pickens, Kurt Elling, Maggie Brown, Jimmy Ellis, Malachi Thompson, Bethany Pickens and others including David Mosena, President of the Museum of Science and Industry, and Don Randel, the President of the University of Chicago, who serve as the Committee's Honorary Co-Chairs. I told L.C. that I would talk with President Randel and urge him to support a site in Hyde Park for the Checkerboard. L.C. was elated, responding, "Tell them I will call it the 'University Checkerboard Lounge' if they want me to."

I pursued conversations with President Randel and other administrators at the university. Mrs. Thurman, who is a partner in the business with her husband, met with our committee. She reiterated their strong desire to be in Hyde Park (where they live), and urged us to continue our efforts for support and backing from the university to establish the "New Checkerboard Lounge."

I stepped up my efforts as we entered the fall, citing to the university the November deadline L.C. had given me. With a handshake, President Randel stated he would try to bring the Checkerboard to Hyde Park. With a letter of intent and business plans underway, we now have the late breaking "Friends of the Checkerboard." Where were these "friends" when L.C. desperately needed them? With all due respect to my brothers and sisters who, I am certain, mean well, let me point out a few salient facts. First, the Checkerboard is a business belonging to L.C. Thurman and his wife. It does not belong to the university, nor does it belong to the "Friends." Mr. Thurman and his wife decide where the Checkerboard will be, and no one else, no matter how nostalgic and well-meaning they may be. This new club will not be the old blues club, but rather a new Checkerboard Lounge with both jazz and blues. It may not be suited to some blues tastes, but if it is, we invite you to come to the new club. We came to 43rd Street. There is no reason why you can't come to 53rd Street. We are all people of one community—Black and White and Brown—who love blues and jazz. We invite our brothers and sisters of the "Friends" to join us. We would be happy to invite you to a meeting of our Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park. We're sure everyone will agree that the South Side, and indeed, the City of Chicago will be a much better place for having the "New Checkerboard Lounge" open and bringing the joy of blues and jazz to all of us!


Checkerboard tradition will continue on 53rd Street.

Hyde Park Herald, December 17, 2003. Letter by Sam Ackerman

I love the Checkerboard Lounge and introduced it to many friends and family members over the years, until it was closed for reasons of negligence nearly a year ago. Neighbors fight to keep blues club? There's no club there to keep! The time to "save" it was before it closed down. Where were these "neighbors" during the two years preceding the final closing, when everyone knew the building was at risk? I worked with my friends Sokoni Karanja and Harold Lucas on many projects over the years, including the effort to save Gerri's Palm Tavern a few years back, which failed for lack of aldermanic support. On this one, however, I think they are misguided. Instead of praising the University of Chicago for subsidizing a vital institution so that it can reopen soon on the near south side, they accuse the university of "stealing" it. There ain't nothin' to steal! And Harper Court is just 15 blocks from the old location.

Furthermore, the Checkerboard has always been a destination for blues fans, not a "drop in" location. Eighty percent or more were from elsewhere in the city, and about half of them from the University of Chicago. The university has consistently promoted the club to its students and staff as a unique nearby institution. Even Freshman Orientation included the Checkerbaord as a venue for hearing talented local musicians. As a result, for all its years on 43rd street, the Checkerboard attracted a wonderfully diverse crowd of music lovers, and promises to continue that tradition at 53rd street instead of 43rd.

If the club had been supported by the "neighbors" and the 3rd Ward Alderman before it closed, the university wouldn't have dreamed of entering the picture. Now it comes to the rescue as a patron of the arts when government support is drying up, and it is castigated by a few folks who want to divide our near south community. As an alumnus and 42-year community activist, I've never hesitated to criticize the university when it's been wrong. But it needs to be praised when it enhances the entire South Side by saving an institution like the Checkerboard. As a member of the Committee to Restore Jazz to the south Side, I'm also elated that the venue will offer jazz as well as blues, the only two really indigenous American forms of music, with deep roots and a wealth of talent here in Chicago! I'm proud of my friend Sonya Malunda, when she pointed out that this is a case of "no good deed goes unpunished," and urge all music lovers to support the Checkerboard when it re-opens as a precious community institution for the whole near south community.


U of C committing act of cultural piracy: Open Letter to University of Chicago President Don Randel

Hyde Park Herald, November 19, 2003. By Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge.

We are dismayed by the announcement in last week's Herald that the university has convinced Checkerboard Lounge owner L.C. Thurman to sign a letter of intent to negotiate a lease and move into your Women's Workout World property in Harper Court. Your staff has stated that the university's only interest is in keeping the Checkerboard Lounge alive and that you don't intend to "steal" it away.

In a June 3, 2003 letter, Dr. Sokoni Karanja appealed to you to work with Bronzeville leaders to "make the Checkerboard a more accessible source of enrichment to the university community in its present location." Hank Webber, your VP of Community and Government Affairs, responded by writing, "It is the intent of the university to work together wit others to arrive at a mutually agreeable location for the lounge where it (and its distinctive music) can be preserved." Elsewhere, you've emphasized your desire to be a good neighbor. In fact, the Checkerboard's Bronzeville location is well on its way to being rehabilitated, and property owner Murphy Hughes has expressed a strong desire to continue the Checkerboard tradition. Checkerboard fans have created Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge and initiated a marketing plan to help the Lounge reestablish itself as the premier, authentic live music club on the south Side. And we continue to reach out to interested parties to work to ensure the Checkerboard's survival.

We are deeply trouble by the length to which your staff seems to be going to undercut our community's efforts. Bronzeville has a rich history, and we are working hard to rebuild our position as the cultural and economic center of black Chicago. The Checkerboard could could be a key component in this revitalization, to the benefit of all.

In the face of this, L.C. Thurman reports that he has been offered space at $7 per square foot per year, dramatically below the current market rate of Hyde Park commercial real estate. Furthermore, we have recently found out that the university will likely cover build out costs for the space. Such an offer can not be refused. How is it that a university which, with these financial carrots, could attract almost any club—including many whose neighbors would rejoice in their departure—resorts to half-truths, deception, and, yes, lies to try to snare our Checkerboard Lounge? Shame on you.

Your recent actions recall the consistent thread running through the university's actions in support of racially restrictive housing covenants in the first half of the last century and its "urban renewal" drive to remove low-income neighboring blacks in the second half, your focus on your narrow self-interests. Now you want to be a good neighbor.

Stealing the Checkerboard Lounge is no way to start.


Letter of Paula Robinson, Bronzeville Community development Partnership and Illinois advisor to National Trust for Historic Preservation

This tale of two cities could have a happier ending

Hyde Park Herald, January 7, 2004. To the Editor:

The recent debate regarding the proposed move of the Checkerboard Lounge has the residents of Hyde Park, the University of Chicago and the Committee to Bring Jazz Back to Hyde Park saying that we should all work as one big extended family neighborhood. Their response seems to ignore the long-standing Bronzeville effort to utilize its authentic culture to develop a heritage tourism destination as a strategy to create economic development. Either that, or Hyde Park did buy in t the strategy and simply said, "You know what Bronzeville, this really could work, gee, thanks for the idea." At this point they have tried to reduce the issues surrounding the move to being a simple economic decision for LC Thurman, the owner of the lounge. LC Thurman will forever have the respect of the community for not agreeing to move into Gerri's Palm Tavern vacated space when it was being offered him during the crusade to preserve both the rich blues and jazz history of 43rd and 47th Streets. Many people committed to the Restoring Bronzeville campaign have stood strong as long as they could to preserve the authentic cultural experience. the new extended family must respect the protracted struggle and stand shoulder to shoulder to protect the authentic cultural experience of the Great Migration. The actions of Hyde Parkers seem less of a good deed by good neighbors and more like the pillage or raid from the spoils of war.

Big, happy family

Now, their message seems to be that we should simply work together towards the greater interest of the South Lakefront communities. Well, it has never been simple and the past history of these adjacent communities has read more like a Tale of Two Cities, but perhaps we should pause for a moment and visualize how we might look as a big happy family and how we would act if it all became true. If we acknowledge that we are related by more than geography, but also through history (both painful and great) and through a shared culture, then what? Well, if we are related then is should be alright to tell it like it is and say what needs to be said. As of late, Hyde Parkers, our new kissing cousins, have taken the liberty to become quite familiar, making the conversation a bit uncomfortable for the folks in Bronzeville to absorb. Their last "kiss and tell" editorials and letters put all the dirty laundry on the line. Their bold retort was that the Checkerboard Lounge was hardly a "theft of culture" because the closed Lounge was about to be lost forever. Bronzeville residents haven't been big patrons of the Blues Lounge and the landlord has code violations--all true. But the debate really got up close and personal (or should we say political) for the "Bronzeville Keepers of Culture" when the finger was pointed back at them saying the real culprit lies within its own house as evidence by the lack of support from Alderman Tillman. Yet Bronzeville has failed to respond to any of those allegations or as Alderman Tillman might say, to "Bring it on Home."

There have been plenty of kitchen table conversations throughout the Bronzeville community discussing all the ironies and hypocrisies. What remains is many unresolved issues and perhaps it is time to call an extended family conference in an open and inclusive forum like the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC) facilitates so effectively each year. Perhaps by identifying some of the questions we can begin to find answers that truly promote this greater good that we keep hearing about.


If the City of Chicago is in fact working with Alderman Tillman to create Chicago's official Blues District on 47th Street, why would any of us allow world-renowned venues like Gerri's Palm Tavern and the Checkerboard Lounge to be closed down? Are we competing with each other to showcase our rich culture or with the other cities on a national and international level? All of the South Loop neighborhoods have the challenge of Chicago's Tour maps highlighting any points of interest south of McCormick Place.

Are both Hyde Park and Bronzeville now developing jazz and blues destinations? Is there any coordination for highest and best use among the "Family"? Hindsight is certainly 20/20, but we all know that if it was just about Hyde Park and the U. of C. needing more off-campus nighttime entertainment options, the Second City Comedy Club would be locating in the old Women's Workout World site and the Checkerboard owners could have expanded into a larger venue in the Bronzeville Blues District. LC Thurman would finally have the parking he's been asking for all along, since we ultimately demolished the historic Metropolitan Theater to put up a parking lot.

If we are creating creating entertainment venues throughout the South Lakefront communities and utilizing the growth industry of heritage tourism as an economic development tool, why isn't the Checkerboard Lounge simply expanding? We need to negotiate with the entities that own the Checkerboard name and develop an agreement that would license the name. LC Thurman should be growing the franchise he built, just as there has been a Checkerboard Lounge West in the past. The Hyde Park proposal to create The New Checkerboard Jazz & Blues Club can pay tribute to the original history without destroying the past. It is not time to give up the fight to preserve the Checkerboard, we have learned how to negotiate effective succession strategies as evidenced by the compromise that preserved the Metropolitan Church.

The original Checkerboard on East 43rd Street should be restored as a living museum. When we were trying to develop strategies to sustain the Palm Tavern we learned how a non profit could be formed (similar to the Hot Home) to help the owners institutionalize these important places that help define a community. Hyde Park jazz aficionados involved in the struggle to save the historic Palm Tavern provided strategies that would have allowed the club to become a Gallery 37 type venue which, during the day would host student workshops and tourist and function as a club or special event venue in the evening. The [former] Checkerboard Lounge landlord, Murphy Hughes, would have more incentive to invest in the renovations and the community would have a strategy to help sustain the history.

Checkers yes, Chess no

These are all strategies that the U. of C. knows how to implement. The Harris School for Cultural Policy continues to study these issues right now. Students should be invited to participate in this reality case study. Furthermore, the university is a major supporter in a two-year program with the City of Chicago's cultural Affairs and Planning Departments called "Culture as a Civic Agenda." These forums for civic engagement currently exist.

Let's stop believing that Alderman Tillman is too difficult to work with. She and Alderman Preckwinkle were obviously able to agree on strategies that will turn 43rd Street from a commercial to a residential district. The Committee to Save the Dan Ryan has begun to see how the Transportation infrastructure is being used to turn Bronzeville into a bedroom community.

When we frequent Hyde Park's dining destinations Dixie Kitchen, Mellow Yellow or Valois (since Gladys' is also closed for violations) there is not enough parking. If the New Checkerboard can seat 260 people, parking will be worse than trying to find a parking place anywhere around the DuSable Museum now that the U of C Hospitals have expanded.

Will the Harper's Court Shopping Center and Foundation really welcome Bronzeville residents at the New Checkerboard Lounge with its 2 a.m. liquor license? Let's hope we can embrace each other's culture better than we did when it came to playing chess in [Harper Court] during the day and don't forget the tension that existed when a full house would let out after a film at the now shuttered Hyde Park Theater. (The consequences of which are that neither of our neighborhoods has a movie theater.)

Seeking Tillman's support

There are some positive signs of these two neighborhoods beginning to have an integrated planning process. The New Communities Program, Quad CDC, presents the opportunity to erase boundaries and barriers in Bronzeville and North Kenwood/Oakland with the new Cottage Grove retail development. Sonya Malunda, vice president for the U. of C. Community Affairs and Treasurer for QCDC, is the interim director of the program. Based on their last community charrette she should be given broad support and opportunity to implement the process for this new model. Much of the key leadership in Bronzeville, frustrated with Aldermanic disputes, has morphed much of its development role into this process anyway. Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) implemented program includes Grand Boulevard and the Third Ward should not be treated as a stepchild. (Note to Sonya: Yes, the community's tourism development strategies should also be an overlay to the Cottage Grove retail plans.)

The Bronzeville Keepers of Culture have to find a way to get real buy-in and support from Alderman Tillman on the preservation of the community's cultural assets and a stronger appreciation for the economic impact of the heritage tourism strategies. Perhaps it can be an information sharing session and she will share the full plans for the 47th Blues District. Inquire about a professional management company for the beautiful new Harold Washington Cultural Center that will ensure that this 500+ seat venue does not suffer the same demise of the New Regal Theater. Find out which theater companies or promotional entertainment groups have contracted with the Center to be uses as their new theater home.

We need to keep asking the hard questions, and since there are no dumb questions please allow this last one. Has Alderman Tillman ever had the benefit of receiving the formal presentation on Bronzeville as an International African American Heritage Tourism destination? These presentations have obviously captured the interest of the U. of C., so it may work with the Alderman. Just remember to take with you the support and resources of your newfound family. That should help.


Facts about the Checkerboard effort. By Bernard Loyd

Subject: Facts about the Checkerboard effort
Date: 1/15/2004 11:16:56 AM Central Standard Time

Dear Mr. Rumsey:

Friends of the Checkerboard have noted your and the HPKCC’s position on the Checkerboard and several letters to the press articulating that position. While we do not agree with the position, we appreciate your interest in and support for the Checkerboard Lounge.

We believe that fans of the Checkerboard Lounge should work together to return and make successful the Checkerboard at its historic location. I’d like to offer a few comments to help clarify our position:

  1. We believe that the Checkerboard Lounge is a very important part of Bronzeville and can play a key role in Bronzeville’s revitalization. We also believe that moving the Checkerboard out of its historic location will fundamentally change its character.
  2. It is almost certainly true that if fans of the Checkerboard – in Bronzeville, in Hyde Park, and around the world - had aggressively supported the Checkerboard over the last decade or so, we would not be in the current position. We all bear responsibility for that.
  3. Key facts on which HPKCC’s position appears to be based seem to embrace the University of Chicago’s public relations campaign and are incorrect:
    1. Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge did in fact engage with proprietor, L.C. Thurman, even before the City closed the building and with the University of Chicago as far back as May 15, 2003. We have worked hard to facilitate the Checkerboard’s return since then.
    2. The current and historical location of the Checkerboard Lounge, 423 E 43rd Street, is a viable option. The owner, Murphy Hughes, has made it clear that he wants the Checkerboard back and in late September 2003 offered L.C. Thurman a letter of intent at $15 per square foot. Despite all that has happened he recognizes the historical, cultural, and economic value of this location and maintains his interest in bringing the Checkerboard back. He is currently renovating this space with a time frame to completion that appears to be similar to that of the University.
    3. The University’s offer and approach can reasonably be described as resulting in “stealing the Checkerboard”. They assured us in writing that they would seek to find a “mutually agreeable location”. They then followed up verbally to assure us that “the university will not steal the Checkerboard”. In retrospect, it is clear that these statements were designed to deceive and mislead us. In our view, the actual terms of the offer ($7 per square foot (less than half of the Bronzeville price tag and, we are told, one-third to one-fourth the going Hyde Park rate) and university coverage of build out costs) and the covert and dishonest nature of the university’s actions indeed amount to a steal.
    4. Hyde Park is close to but dramatically different from Bronzeville. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go to developing the infrastructure, amenities, and economic opportunity that Hyde Parkers can take for granted. We are proud of our rich history of contributions to music and culture, and we hold dear key assets, such as the Checkerboard Lounge, that can help drive a rebuilding.
    5. The university’s motive is not simply to “save” the Checkerboard. They have made it clear that they want to improve nightlife in Hyde Park.
  4. Unfortunately, the University of Chicago has done much to prevent honest discussion of the issues and collaboration between fans of the Checkerboard.

We will be responding to your letters publicly, but did want to make contact with you directly to share our perspective. Also, we would appreciate the HPKCC’s website reflecting the real facts on the issue. You can find additional information on our web site at Finally, unless you instruct me otherwise, I will include your (and Gary Ossewaarde’s) e-mail address on the Friends of the Checkerboard distribution list so that you will receive pertinent information as our effort develops.

Bernard Loyd


Subject: Re: Facts about the Checkerboard effort
Date: 1/15/2004 11:35:38 AM Central Standard Time
From: Rumsey
Reply To:

Hi, Bernard.
Thank you very much for including me on your list for Checkerboard developments.

I probably shouldn't have signed my letter to the Trib as representing HPKCC. Officially, the Board has not taken a position regarding the Checkerboard at all. As a matter of fact, if you or someone from your organization would like to make a presentation to the Board seeking support, we would be happy to have you.

My letter was based on the idea that the Checkerboard is currently closed, and there doesn't seem to be much interest on the part of Mr. Thurman to re-open at the old address. Of course moving to Hyde Park would change the ambiance and atmosphere--nothing could replace the original. But I would rather see a new Checkerboard than no Checkerboard.

I also hope this discussion doesn't have to pit one neighborhood against the other. Given the rapidly growing development of the entire South Side, it seems to me that what's good for Hyde Park is also good for Bronzeville--and vice-versa. I would like to see the entire area become a "destination point" for visitors--and that concern doesn't stop at 47th Street.

For my information, are any efforts being made to find someone else interested in starting up a new blues scene in the area (just in case)? Or bringing back Theresa's?

Please keep us informed of developments. Although I personally like the idea of "more nightlight in Hyde Park," I'm not against your efforts to hold on to the Checkerboard! I'll also post your letter on to give a more complete picture.

Best regards,


Friends of the Checkerboard at HPKCC Board meeting, February 5, 2004

Bernard Loyd and Ayana Karanja, Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge.

Loyd recounted the Mid-South Planning Process, which envisioned destinations, including blues and jazz, to draw visitors and new residents and businesses to Bronzeville. The Checkerboard, as the only long-standing and authentic venue left, was seen as a leveraging point for redevelopment. A timeline of the current controversy was reviewed and documents passed around. The quests expressed disappointment at the University’s intervention to move the lounge out of its authentic neighborhood, having terms with which Bronzeville residents and businesses cannot compete. The guests also were disappointed at the way the rug was pulled out from under them, they said, after assurances from the University that this would not happen, the University would “work for a mutually agreeable location.” The Friends of the Checkerboard continued to be dismayed at unwillingness of the University in a recent meeting with Hank Webber and Sonya Malunda to seek a mutually acceptable resolution now that there is a realistic possibility the old site will be reusable in six months or so. (The University representatives did tell them that the University would be more transparent in the future.)

The guests acknowledged that the Checkerboard was in a dilapidated building in a depopulated area and without effective marketing. Their main points were that the Checkerboard is a key element in community rebuilding and confidence and that the cavalier actions and competition of the University undermines the future of Bronzeville: “We can’t let them deal with us that way.”

During questioning, it was revealed that four HPKCC board members had visited the Lounge. Checkerboard owner L.C. Thurman was expected to sign a binding agreement with the University within a month. University terms include $7 per square foot rent (vs. the best the current landlord can do, $15) and free buildout. Alderman Tillman is now personally supportive but will not fight the University or the 4th Ward alderman over the issue—there is no “aldermanic issue” here, Tillman was said to have told the Friends. A compromise location on 47th Street would be acceptable to Friends. Response to appeals for new partners met with response but is so far insufficient, and a financial foundation for the business has to be there before split-site or franchising could be considered. Friends clarified that after the University’s offer Mr. Thurman became resolute against a return to the old location and has done what is in his interest (maybe with prodding) and not in his neighborhood’s.

Ashby asked, “What would you like us to do for you?” To weigh in on their side with the community and University—HPKCC’s being Hyde Park-based would be a telling point. Also, help in tapping an audience for their viewpoint, including that Bronzeville upgrade raises all boats, and in explaining that Bronzeville feels itself under pressures (including from CHA transformation), so this problem comes at a bad time. The Friends were thanked and a letter of thanks will be sent them


April 10 at the Community Development Conference, Bernard Loyd and other supporters of the Checkerboard-in Bronzeville argued strongly with President Randel after his address, challenging facts and motives. The following references Randel's words and the challenge from Friends of the Checkerboard.


U. of C. should leave lounge in Bronzeville

Friends of the Checkerboard Lounge. (This article appeared before the announcement of lease signing May 10.)

We were excited to hear U. of C. President Don Michael Randel proclaim a new era of community engagement at his April 10 speech at the university's City Space conference. We share his view that the university's Urban Renewal tactics resulted in terrible mistakes, the impact of which remains visible all around us.

Given this rhetoric, we are confused by the university's continuing efforts to move the world-famous Checkerboard Lounge from Bronzeville to Hyde Park.

Where were university officials when we wrote them repeatedly, beginning less than a month after the April 2003 closure of the Checkerboard, to proposes a collaborative effort to save the club? Why has President Randel refused to meet with us?

What did the university mean in indicating--in a July response to us--its intent "to work together with others to arrive at a mutually agreeable location for the lounge?"

Why do university officials insist on proclaiming that the proposed location is acceptable due to its being "only 18 blocks away" from the historic location?

How does the university justify utilizing its $4 billion tax-free endowment to subsidize deeply the move of the Checkerboard and thereby eliminate it a a potential anchor for Bronzeville jobs?

Could it be that university staff believe that Don Randel's stated desire to bring "joints" back to Hyde Park (to replace those stamped out with Urban Renewal) justifies their actions in trampling over our community? We ask the university to clarify its position.