Favorite subjects: Juan Solomon Park

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google

The city park nearest my home is a few minutes’ drive away, where Grandview Drive and Fox Hill Road intersect on Indianapolis’s Northwestside. Driving by, it seems small — a tennis court, a playground, a community building. But behind it are 41 acres of trails and soccer fields.

Juan Solomon Park was built in 1971 but didn’t get its name until 1973. Mr. Solomon was not only a community leader, but a neighbor — he lived across the street from the park when he passed away.

My young sons and I spent many happy hours here, me on a bench watching while they ran and played. This park was usually packed with children. My older boy made friends with everyone. My younger boy seemed content to play alone, but was always clearly delighted when his older brother called him into the playgroup.

And then in about 2010 the city tore down the playground. My sons were older by then and we didn’t visit anymore, but it made us sad just the same. And it didn’t make sense to us, given how popular the park remained.

What we didn’t know was that the city had innovative plans for the site. Much of the Northwestside was built before the city annexed it in 1970. Thousands of homes were built without city services, and their aging septic systems were leaching waste into the waterways. The city was aggressively building its sanitary sewer system out to this part of town and compelling homeowners to connect to it. I was one of those homeowners; read about my experience here, here, and here.

Pumping stations would be needed to manage this much waste, and one would be built at Juan Solomon Park. But the building would also become a community center, and a brand new playground would be built. And when it was done, it was beautiful.

Here’s the pumping station and community center just after it was completed in 2012. I love how the building features a sod roof.

Sod roof
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Fujicolor 200, 2012

This building is a wonderful subject for black-and-white film. The dark glass and white framing create lovely contrast.

At Juan Solomon Park
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Arista 100 EDU (expired), 2015
Buliding at Juan Solomon Park
Ansco Shur Shot, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2012

Most of the time I visited Juan Solomon Park with a camera, it was to take advantage of the abundant color and detail on the playground. The playground’s surface is made of innovative, cushiony squares that can be replaced when damaged. When they were new, their colors were vibrant.

Pentax KM, Fujicolor 200, SMC Pentax f/1.8 55mm, 2012
Wet seat
Pentax KM, Fujicolor 200, SMC Pentax f/1.8 55mm, 2012
At the playground
Olympus XA, Fujicolor 200, 2012
Canon Dial 35-2, Fujicolor 200, 2013

The grounds are full of interesting shapes, forms, and lines.

Top of the wall
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Ilford Delta 100, 2015
Canon Dial 35-2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
At Juan Solomon Park
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Arista 100 EDU (expired), 2015

My favorite thing to photograph at Juan Solomon Park is shadow. The sun has free reign over the playground and casts shadows at nearly all times of day.

Shadows 2
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Arista 100 EDU (expired), 2015
Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017
At Juan Solomon Park
Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

Now that the rebuilt park has been open five years, color is fading from the play surface. But the rest of the facility is remarkably free of vandalism and graffiti. It remains a shining destination for this solidly middle-class neighborhood.

At Juan Solomon Park
Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

And I’m going to miss it when I move later this year. But there will, I’m sure, be new favorite subjects to find where I’m going.


8 responses to “Favorite subjects: Juan Solomon Park”

  1. dan james Avatar

    Playgrounds and parks often make interesting subjects with their vibrant colours. And of course the shadows!

    Interesting Tri-X photographs from this year Jim, they have a sepia kind of hint to them. I thought before I read the description you’d used one of the CN b/w films that retain a colour cast when scanned as colour.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah yes, those Tri-X shots! They were among the first negatives I scanned myself on my Epson V300, and I didn’t have the hang of it yet. I think I could get a more classic Tri-X look if I did them over, now that I have some experience.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    You know this park is in pretty nice shape…I heard that Indy had a Wes Montgomery park, and being a jazz fan, I went down to look at it…sheesh, whata mess! No where near as nice as this, no real “Wes” statues or anything around (that I could find), and not taken care of at all…sad…Wes is rolling in his grave.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This park is still relatively new, really; not much time for it to fall into disrepair! But even before it was rebuilt it was in pretty good shape. I don’t know why some Indy parks are well maintained and others aren’t. I have noticed that the dumpy ones I’ve encountered are in the more challenged neighborhoods.

  3. Kerry Michael Manders Avatar
    Kerry Michael Manders

    Some history on the creation & development of Crooked Creek Community/Juan Solomon Park (the correct name of the park). In 1969 Crooked Creek Community Council’s (C4) founder, Hal Kunz negotiated an agreement with Indy Parks & the developer of the Fox Hill Apartments for the land to establish a Crooked Creek community park. The park was dedicated in 1971.

    In 1994 the southern 22 acres of woods (that was not part of the park) was threatened with inappropriate development. The community opposed the development and fought the zoning. Meanwhile Kerry Michael Manders came up with a plan to raise the funds, buy the land, expand the park by giving it to Indy Parks. He became chairman of Friends of Juan Solomon Park, a C4 project.

    Over the next 18 months he raised $500,000 to purchase the land. This was the first time a neighborhood organization raised funds to double the size of a park, give the land to Indy Parks and raised additional funds for trails and the bridge in the park. This project was recognized by Neighborhoods’ USA as National Neighborhood of the Year, Indy Parks’ Best Partner Award among other awards. In 1996, Kerry Michael Manders received the Sagamore of the Wabash from Gov. Bayh for leading this project.

    Another related historical fact: Hal Kunz worked for ten years to develop a trail along Michigan Road. When he retired, he asked Kerry Michael Manders to keep pressing for the Michigan Road Trail. Kerry worked another 15 years — through 3 mayors, when he made a video of disabled individuals trying to travel the corridor and their caregivers testimony of injured client’s caused Mayor Ballard to make the Michigan Road Trail a priority. Kerry received the President’s Volunteer Service Award — recognizing his efforts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you for bringing this detailed history of the park!

  4. Jerry Avatar

    Juan Soloman Park… in the mid 80’s my older brother had his club soccer practices here. The team was named Quisan F.C. The park was used mostly for orgnanized soccer & football back then.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Lots of soccer is still played there!

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