The original park, called Downey Park for Negroes, was located east of Greenwood Cemetery and north Forest Hill Cemetery, on land now occupied by the extended north-south runway at Birmingham Municipal Airport. That site was acquired and dedicated in 1951 to provide separate recreational facilities for African-American residents in the area, which was also served by the white-only Wahouma Park a few blocks away. The site was poorly drained, and the construction of improvements or park lighting were limited because of its location on axis with the airport runway. Nevertheless, the Birmingham City Commission proposed construction of a $100,000 recreation center at the park using funds from a 1960 bond issue. Those plans were put on hold when the Commission decided to close the parks rather than open them to all races in 1962.
After the city's parks were integrated in 1963, the city abandoned any intention to further develop Downey Park and no funds were expended on improvements or maintenance. The residential areas served by the park had largely been redeveloped for commercial uses and were further decimated by expansion of the airport, the relocation of Daniel Payne College, and construction of the I-59/20. It was thus easily argued in a 1972 environmental impact study for further airport expansion that acquiring the Downey Park site would cause no public harm, and the city's projected 1990 Land Use Plan called for the park and 89 remaining homes in the area to be turned over to airport expansion. The Birmingham Park & Recreation Board supported that plan, but asked that funds for acquisition of another park site be granted to the board in compensation.
The present Downey Park features an outdoor basketball court, playgrounds, walking track, and a picnic pavilion. A metal plaque was installed by the East Lake Neighborhood Association in January 2013 to honor "unsung heroes" including two former neighborhood officers, Shirley Holston and Brad Billingsley.
- "Acceptance Date Near on Centers in Birmingham" (March 22, 1962) Associated Press/Times-Daily
- Wagner, Frank A. (October 12, 1972) Letter to Samuel Hill, Jr, attached to "Supplement No. 2 to Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Birmingham Municipal Airport" (November 9, 1972)
- Wright, James A. (November 7, 1972) Letter to Samuel Hill, Jr, attached to
- Chambers, Jesse (January 29, 2013) "East Lake ceremony honors neighborhood officers, "unsung heroes"." The Birmingham News