Council asks to end outdoor basketball at Jefferson Park
by BRIAN NADIG A formal request to end outdoor basketball at Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave., and renovations to the former craft shop in the park were discussed at the July 10 meeting of the Jefferson Park Advisory Council. Council president Lionel Rabb said that last month the council sent the Chicago Park District a letter asking that the outdoor basketball equipment be removed from the park and that the area be restored to its original use as a tennis court. The basketball court is in a fenced-in area that also is occupied by three tennis courts. The letter was written after the council collected about two 200 signatures on a petition that was circulated at a community picnic which the advisory council held in May. The council has discussed problems with the basketball court for the past year. Rabb said that the advisory council has not received a response on its request from the park district or from Alderman John Arena (45th). Council members have complained that basketball play is disruptive to tennis players and that the basketball court attracts youths who use drugs and are abusive to park employees. Arena led the campaign to have the basketball nets restored at the park in 2011 following a nearly 15-year absence of outdoor basketball at the park due to complaints of gang activity, late-night noise and drug dealing. Arena’s staff conducted a survey which showed strong support for outdoor basketball at the park. Last year a sign was posted prohibiting basketball after 8 p.m., and the net closest to the playlot was removed due to concerns about foul language being heard by children. A resident said at the meeting that he has made numerous 911 calls about problems at the basketball court. He said that drugs are being sold through the fence to people on the sidewalk and that drug activity and basketball games sometimes occur as late as 2 a.m. On May 22 five people were charged with criminal trespass after they were found on the basketball court after 8 p.m., and one of the suspects had been issued a ticket for a similar offense the previous day, according to 16th (Jefferson Park) District police. On June 25 two men were arrested when they refused to leave the park after park employees caught them smoking marijuana, police said. Arena said that he has received few complaints about the court and that he has concerns about the council’s petition drive because it was conducted while signers were being given a free picnic lunch. The council is planning to expand its petition effort. Rabb said that the council hopes to get the community “engaged” in the park by holding a series of events throughout the year. One of the events is “Water Wars,” featuring an inflatable water slide and squirt guns, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21. The council also plans to hold chess tournaments later this year at the 130-year-old Esdohr House, 4820 N. Long Ave., which until 15 years ago was used as the park’s craft shop. The advisory council will install an historical marker at the building and is working with the park district to have it renovated, council vice president Frank Suerth said. The house, which was moved to Long Avenue from Higgins Avenue about 80 years ago, was owned by Henry Esdohr, who was a postmaster and whose farm had a well that attracted visitors to the area. A branch library also once was located inside the house. The council also is considering hiring a company to operate an ice skating rink at the park this winter. Suerth said that Jefferson Park once had a warming shelter for ice skaters.