Bocce Courts and Chess in the Park
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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.
Dedicated by the city in 1953, four bocce courts had stretched along the area of Dexter Training Ground now occupied by the playground. We don’t know exactly when, but it is thought that the courts were abandoned and removed sometime in the mid to late 1980s, when our neighborhood was suffering the most from the effects of urban disinvestment.
Today, our park is once again 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 were no official "courts” in recent times until now, 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 would become the setting for a public project bringing back bocce courts along with chess tables for our community's enjoyment. What's more is that these amenities were donated by a special family who lived in and contributed to our neighborhood for many years.
Brothers Bob and Doug Jeffrey approached 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.
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 and former neighbors may consider doing the same.
a community of partners
WBNA loves a good collaborative project, and this one met that criteria again and again. In early 2016 WBNA began meeting with Providence Department of Parks and Recreation, Providence Historic District Commission, 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 weighed in 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 and its Bocce Builders Subcommittee. Neighbors envisioned where potential bocce court and chess table sites could be with the help of spray chalk, and gave feedback to project organizers, while kids and adults tried out bocce sets and played chess at mock-up chess tables.
In the months that followed, WBNA and neighbor organizers along with Department of Parks and Recreation took these ideas and formed a work plan. Phase I featured the building of two tournament length Bocce courts, and was largely completed as a special project during the WBNA Annual Spring Cleanup in April of 2017.
The Parks Department started the intensive work a few days ahead, digging out the courts and laying the gravel and clay mix, then joined with an enthusiastic and hard-working group of volunteers that included neighbors and a surprise showing of engineers from the Younger Member Group at the American Society of Civil Engineers, Rhode Island Chapter. From all reports, this day of sweat and hard labor was full of great community energy as the team helped assemble the courts and put down the final court surface.
The Parks Department was extremely diligent and thoughtful in its work. Building bocce courts requires a careful and thorough tamping down of the ground and cutting of timbers to ensure the playing surface is perfectly level. Parks carried out this work with great precision, but was also a fantastic partner, friendly and cooperative, in its work with neighbors.
Phase II was completed a few months later and involved the work of local artists and makers. Providence Painted Signs installed a handpainted sign for the courts, and The Steel Yard created three sets of colorful chairs and tables made with handmade inset tiles by ceramicist and west side neighbor Nidal Fakhouri.
In our efforts to conserve resources and be cost effective, we relocated a little-used but fun and sturdy bulletin board from inside the park to the bocce and chess table area. This bulletin board now holds an interpretive panel created by author and neighbor Taylor Polites on the history of bocce at the park, bocce rules and how to play, and background on Gilda and Bob Jeffrey.
In July of 2017, this new place in the park created for all to play was dedicated and celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and "throw of the first ball" by Gilda Jeffrey herself. The event was attended by the Jeffrey family, our partners from the Department of Parks and Recreation, neighbor-volunteers, members of our West side Parks Committee and Bocce Builders Subcommittee, and elected officials.
WBNA is grateful to the Jeffrey family and the many partners and neighbors who collaborated to make this project happen and with such wonderful results. This lovely but once-underutilized part of the park is now another place for neighbors of all ages to gather, play and build community.
Stay tuned for a chess tournament in the works slated for the summer of 2018, and landscaping additions as the weather gets warmer. And huge congrats to our two bocce building team – the Parks Department and our neighbor-led Bocce Builders Subcommittee – for receiving 2018 WBNA Awards for their exceptional work on this project!
- 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