Chess Games a Pawn in San Francisco Redevelopment

Mid-market's spiff up puts streetlife tradition in check

By Jackson West
|  Tuesday, Jun 22, 2010  |  Updated 3:15 PM PDT
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Chess Games a Pawn in San Francisco Redevelopment

Marcin Chady

The chess games near the Powell Street BART station plaza may have become an unlikely victim of promoting street life along San Francisco's Market Street.

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For years, players have lined up to play and kibitzers to chime in games of chess on tables set up on Market Street down a bit from the Powell Street BART station.

If anything, it was one of the last vestiges of relatively civilized street life until practically the outdoor tables at Zuni Cafe blocks and blocks away.

And at a dollar an hour, was one of the cheapest entertainments on offer in that stretch that's littered with all sorts -- and that's "all" sorts -- of possible diversions.

But for now it's on the verge of becoming a relic of the City's past, and could be a victim of circumstances in a neighborhood that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has promised to clean up.

After reportedly receiving complaints about some of the characters congregating around the games, the San Francisco Police Department asked the organizers to move down a block towards Sixth Street.

Not a long way to move, but if you're a tourist or downtown San Francisco commuter, a block too far.

The move came shortly before a hospital stay by the original organizer, and the new organizer isn't optimistic about the chances of survival.

"This whole area? It's dilapidated… Nobody can make money down here," current chess impresario John Powell told the San Francisco Weekly of the location and its loss of foot traffic.

Photo by Marcin Chady.

Jackson West thought the mid-market plan was about encouraging street life and small business entrepreneurs.

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