by Kathryn Lyons
Heading north on Grandview Drive from Fox Hill Drive you may notice a seemingly small, but busy park directly to the east. Juan Solomon Park is actually quite large, featuring 41 beautiful green acres. The park is equipped with several different amenities that invite neighborhood residents and other Indianapolis families to join in on the fun. These amenities include walking trails, a playground, tennis courts, a soccer field, a community room, and a picnic shelter. With all that the park has to offer, it is not surprising to see how popular it is for many citizens in the Indianapolis area.
The parkland was obtained in 1971, and in 1975 it was dedicated and named after Juan C. Solomon, an Indianapolis community leader who lived in the Grandview neighborhood with his wife Eloise at 6405 Grandview Drive. Juan Solomon was born in Macon, Georgia in 1908. His father Zollicoffer Cicero Solomon was a preacher (probably in the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church) and his mother Exa Walker was a lifelong teacher. Exa Walker taught at Beda Etta College in Macon in the 1920s and 1930, where her son Juan graduated in 1926. Beda Etta was opened by Minnie Lee Smith in 1921 to address the complete absence of African-American high schools in Macon. After World War II, Exa and her husband taught at the Memorial Trade School, a segregated trade school training African-American veterans, and Exa taught for several years at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, where she was teaching at her death in 1953.
Juan and Eloise Solomon moved to Indianapolis from Georgia in 1940. In 1940, Juan was a servant and Eloise was a maid living in the household of George Frantz at a home at 5402 North Meridian. A year later the Solomons were living at 1069 West 26th Street beside Elder W. Diggs School 42, where Eloise Solomon taught for 25 years until her 1972 retirement. Eloise Johnson graduated from Clark University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1929 and was a public school teacher in Rome, Georgia a year later. She subsequently secured a Master’s degree at Butler University.
Juan Solomon began to work for Eli Lilly in 1941and retired in July, 1973, just over a month before his death. Solomon served on a wide range of community organizations, including the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC) and the Metropolitan Manpower Commission, During Solomon’s time with Lilly, he was appointed as a personnel representative for the company, and in 1969 he was awarded the Eli Lilly Good American Award.
Historically this park has offered a variety of activities. For instance, among the first events at Juan Solomon Park was the Touch of Perfection social club’s benefit tennis tournament on Sunday, August 29th, 1976. In 1992, the park began offering tennis lessons during the summer to children in the Indianapolis area, and in 1998 an organization called Foster Care Luggage held a day camp at the park for 25 children in foster care as well as 25 neighborhood children. The event was one of many that this group provided to help children who were placed in foster care cope with the many challenges happening in their lives.
In 1999 the park was recognized in the article “Indy Parks Steeped in Black History.” In 2002, the park was included in WISH-TV’s feature “Pride of the Parks” that took place during Black History Month. It was one of only 17 parks chosen to be included in the feature. Then, in 2003, the park was the meeting ground for the Indianapolis Black Alumni Council event, where many current students and alumni from Historically Black Colleges gathered.
The history of Juan Solomon Park, while relatively short in its physical number of years, has been extensive. This park is certainly one to be cherished and cared for in the days to come, as is the memory of Juan Solomon himself.