At 5224 Tilden Avenue in East Flatbush sits one of the Brooklyn homes of baseball great Jackie Robinson. The house was constructed around 1912 to 1916, and Robinson resided there from 1947 to 1949, and would later move to a home in Addisleigh Park, Queens from 1949 to 1955. A red, porcelainized enamel oval plaque installed by the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center, who places these on buildings “associated with distinguished New Yorkers” offers Robinson’s full name, the years he lived, and a few pieces of information about his triumphs as a baseball player. These medallions were designed by Massimo Vignelli, the father of the New York City subway system signage.
When we visited to take a photograph of this house, a young man from the neighborhood said to us, “Beautiful house isn’t it?” We replied, “Yes, and did you know Jackie Robinson lived there?” The man paused, looked long and hard at the building, and turned back to us and said “I didn’t know that. You learn something new every day right?”
Robinson lived on the top two floors of 5224 Tilden Avenue with his wife Rachel and was connected to the rental opportunity by a Dodgers official who was tasked with finding a place for Robinson to live near Ebbets Field. Robinson was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, as the plaque also notes, starting at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. At the time, Black baseball players would be relegated to the Negro leagues, yet Robinson would go on to win the Rookie of the Year Award while a resident of the East Flatbush residence. Robinson would win the National League Most Valuable Player Award in and the National League Batting Title in 1949 and would be an All-Star for six consecutive seasons. His uniform number 42 was retired in 1997 across all major league teams. Robinson also lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 407 Stuyvesant Street for a short few months when he first arrived to Brooklyn and that block was renamed in his honor in 2018.
After the death of the property owner, Eleanor Palin, the home came under the ownership of twenty heirs who struggled to decide what to do with the house. Attempts to get the house landmarked, led by then-City Councilman Jumaane Williams failed. There is also a discrepancy regarding when Robinson lived there. The Historic Landmarks Preservation Center states it was 1947 to 1949 on the plaque, corroborated with records Williams had. Landmarks Preservation Commission believed it was 1948 to 1949, arguing that the short stay by the Robinsons “does not commemorate his life and work as well as his home in Addisleigh Park, where he resided during major milestones of his career.” It echoes similar arguments made against the landmarking of the Walt Whitman House in Brooklyn.
Streeteasy records show that the house was sold in 2016 for $421,000 and then resold less than a year later in January 2017 for $900,000. Renovations were performed on the house as well, with Department of Buildings showing violations in 2017 for construction work done without permits. Since resolved, the house is in good shape with a new door, paint job, and new building number.
Another notable site related to Robinson is the Ebbets Field Apartments, which were built on the former site of Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ebbets Field was where Robinson played his home games with the Dodgers, and they would go on to win the 1955 World Series. Today, the apartments and a nearby intermediate school are named in honor of the baseball legend and the Ebbets Field Apartment denotes the history in small ways like a home plate plaque and a cornerstone.
A flagpole at the Barclays Center also has a connection to Jackie Robinson. When Ebbets Field was demolished in 1960, this center-field flagpole was donated to a Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) outpost on Utica Avenue in East Flatbush. Then-Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a Crown Heights native and former New York State senator was instrumental in having it moved to the Barclays Center.
In 2012, the flagpole was unveiled in a ceremony attended by Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, Brooklyn Nets player Jerry Stackhouse (who wears Robinson’s #42), Ratner, Markowitz, and others. The plaque there reads: “This flagpole stood in Ebbets Field until Brooklyn’s famed ballpark was torn down in 1960. Bruce C. Ratner and Borough President Marty Markowitz are proud to permanently place this historic symbol of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the borough’s new home for major professional sports.”
Next, check out NYC’s lost baseball stadiums.
This article also written by Noah Sheidlower.