Washington Park started in 1891 as a greenspace along Lake Michigan. The Park was a recreation destination and popular place for company picnics out of Chicago. In 1913 the South Shore Amusement Company operated a dance floor, skating rink, bath house, boat rentals, concessions, and thrill rides at the Park.
In the early 1900s, the fire department became an early animal shelter. People would come to visit the animals behind the fire station. In 1928 the animals were moved into cages in Washington Park and a zoo board was appointed. The Park and Zoo continued through the Depression.
During the 1930s and 1940s the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and their companion programs were active in Washington Park. The WPA helped construct several buildings and landscape features of the Park including: the monkey island, brick shelters houses, the former Park Administration Building, a rock garden with waterwheel and connecting pools, tennis courts, picnic shelter, observation tower, and a massive landscape and tree planting campaign. WPA work in the Park started in 1935 and lasted, almost continuously until 1940. This activity resulted in the most complete and representative WPA-designed park in the state of Indiana.