The city created Union Park in 1853, after residents convinced
developers to sell 13 acres of their subdivision at a reduced price.
Named in honor of the Federal Union, it was one of the city's most
fashionable places. In 1885, the city transferred Union Park to the
West Park Commission, which made the park its headquarters. Three years
later, Jens Jensen, then working as gardener, planted an experimental
wildflower garden called the American Garden, marking the beginnings of
his venerable naturalistic style.
In the 1910s,
African-Americans began moving into the neighborhood. While many other
parks were inaccessible to black residents, Union Park became racially
integrated. Between the 1920s and the 1950s, the park became well-known
for cultural and social events, and a number of notable musicians
performed there. Among them were the noted pioneer of gospel music
Thomas A. Dorsey; trumpeter Sunny Cohn; and jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis.