Bocce Courts at Dexter Training Ground, 1981 / Photo courtesy of Clark Schoettle
Bocce Courts and Chess in the Park
A gift of the Jeffrey family, this public project restores bocce courts to Dexter Training Ground along with chess tables as a benefit to the community that connects us with the past. This donation was given to the WBNA in honor of Bob and Gilda Jeffrey, an example and force of positive change in the neighborhood.
background & History
Dexter Training Ground, home of the Cranston Street Armory, is the second most heavily used park in Providence and a center of the Armory District and west side community. At one time, this historic park had bocce courts that brought neighbors together in play.
Today our park is still a favorite urban outlet for outdoor recreation: children play in the playground and climb trees; adults run the park's perimeter and play soccer and kickball; and, while there are no official "courts," neighbors who attend the Providence Hmong Church on Dexter Street play a lawn bowling game in the park that is similar to bocce.
And so it is fitting that Dexter Training Ground be the setting for a new public project that brings back bocce courts along with chess tables for our community's enjoyment. What's more is that these amenities are being donated by a special family who lived in and contributed to our neighborhood for many years.
Brothers Bob and Doug Jeffrey approached the WBNA in 2015 with an idea and a gift. Bob, Doug and their brothers and sisters – seven in all – had a desire to give back to their childhood home while honoring their parents, Bob and Gilda Jeffrey, who were long time residents and advocates for the west side. The Jeffrey children, now with families of their own, have many stories and fond memories of the neighborhood that include playing in the shadow of the Armory.
Their mother, Gilda, was a true neighborhood force, and did much to help others and improve the neighborhood for all of us – from taking on irresponsible absentee landlords, to planting trees, to bringing people into the Jeffrey home for meals. Gilda also ran a program called the West Broadway Incentive Program that gave small grants to neighbors for necessary interior repairs.
While many of his siblings have careers out of state, Doug continues to work locally as Broadway Real Estate Group and has been graciously involved in the project's planning process on behalf of himself and his family.
As Gilda and Bob Jeffrey set an example of neighborliness and civic-mindedness in our community, so do their children who now want to set a precedent of giving back to an important place – in this case their childhood home of the west side – in the hope that other neighbors or former neighbors may consider doing the same.
In early 2016 WBNA began meeting with Deputy Superintendent Brian Byrnes of the Providence Department of Parks and Recreation, Jason Martin of the Providence Historic District Commission, Clark Schoettle of Providence Revolving Fund, Councilman Bryan Principe, landscape design professionals and others about general feasibility, design and location possibilities for the bocce courts and chess tables.
Later that year, the community was asked to give feedback on specifics about the project's location within Dexter Training Ground and its design during a Pop-Up Bocce Court Planning Day event organized by WBNA's West Side Parks Committee. With the help of spray chalk, neighbors were able to envision where potential bocce court and chess table sites would be. Kids and adults tried out bocce sets and played chess at mock-up chess tables. Community members gave their input on idea boards and in conversation with project organizers.
Phase I – the building of two tournament length Bocce courts – is underway as a special project during the WBNA Annual Spring Cleanup on April 22, 2017. Neighbor-volunteers will be assisting Parks Department employees by moving, cutting and assembling large timbers for the courts and by spreading stone dust.
Phase II will happen in early summer with the installation of three chess tables as well as a sign made by the Steel Yard. Exact dates are to be determined for this second phase.
If interested in being involved in this project and other initiatives in our neighborhood's parks, please consider joining the WBNA West Side Parks Committee.
- Locate bocce courts and chess tables in the most appropriate site(s) within the park
- Reach consensus on a plan that is both beautiful and useful, that complements the park and serves the people who use it
- Secures the required local historic district and board of parks commissioners approvals
- Reuses existing and natural materials (bluestone curbing, oyster shells) and found objects in the spirit of creativity, cost effectiveness and sustainable practices
- Involves neighbors for feedback and input
- Works with designers, neighbors, craftspeople and others to ensure the highest quality design and durability