I am very sad to hear that Chess Park is closing. I am writing this letter because I have a suggestion to move the chessboards to another location in Santa Monica, maybe Virginia Park. I’ll tell you a little about myself, why this is important to me and why I think it’s a good idea.
My name is Cody O’Connell. I am 27 years old, grew up and live here in Santa Monica. As a teenager, I became involved in the now-discontinued chess program of the late Mel Bloch’s Santa Monica Libraries. I loved it. I volunteered there to teach kids how to play, and the adults gave me some pointers about my own game. It brought people of all ages together to learn from each other and have fun. Then I went to college at UC Santa Barbara and started the chess club there. I made some great friends along the way. Today I still play chess regularly and have trained a few friends during the pandemic. For me, chess is a lifelong passion for both the beauty of the game and the people you meet.
I have fond memories of Chess Park. I started going there when I was a teen and some really good players would stop by sometimes on Saturdays. It was the first time that I saw a real “chess person” play blitz chess. The audience loved it. It makes me sad that such an iconic place is closing.
The truth is that this could be a hidden blessing for the chess community. Chess park is difficult to access. It’s right next to the pier so there is a lot of traffic, it’s geographically remote, and it’s difficult to find parking. So I suggest we move the boards from Chess Park to a more accessible location in Santa Monica. This should be pretty easy because as far as I can tell the boards themselves are thin metal plates that simply screw onto the wooden tables. We can just unscrew it and reattach it elsewhere.
As for the location, I think Virginia Park would be a great choice. It already has a lot of wooden tables and benches. We could just screw the boards on. It’s centrally located, accessible, and there is already some community activity going on there. Adding a few public chess tables would only add to the park’s value to the community. My only complaint is that the bench layout in Virginia is a bit sparse. Ideally, you want multiple banks in the same area so that players can easily mix and match and switch games. To solve this, we could possibly reuse the old Chess Park benches or add new ones in the future. Someday we should also add this life-size chess game from Chess Park because, well, how cool is that? But now I want to keep it simple. The simplest solution is to take the metal boards from Chess Park and screw them into the tables in Virginia. All you need is a cordless drill.
By the way, if you ask me, every public table there should have a chess board. Chessboard: $ 50. Arousing a lifelong interest in a young child or making new friends: Priceless.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Why don’t you just bring your own chess board to the park?” You sure can, and I’ve done this with a friend before. But the thing is, you can’t just show up at the park and wait to find a game. You need to call a friend in advance and coordinate. To turn this into a community activity, you need to create an environment where strangers can meet and play. Fortunately, we chess players are not very maintenance-intensive. When you lay out the boards, we’re there.
After the Queen’s Gambit and online chess streaming, chess is on the rise again and I hope we can find a new home so it can grow. As someone who found meaning in my life through playing chess in Santa Monica, I feel obliged to insist on it. And I know my late mentor, Mel would insist too.
Cody O’Connell PS If it makes a difference, I rejected this idea from a handful of residents and everyone loved the idea. Some of them are active gamers and others are community members who just want to see Santa Monica be the best it can be.