The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) has formally unveiled a nearly 20,000-square-foot museum in Lower Manhattan dedicated to celebrating the remarkable life and preserving the indelible legacy of the color line-breaking baseball legend who, in 1947, became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the United States during the 20th century. Georgia-born, California-raised Robinson’s signing to the Brooklyn Dodgers effectively ended racial segregation in the MLB. The second baseman and civil rights icon played with the Dodgers through 1956 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He passed away on October 24, 1972, in Connecticut.
The inauguration of the Gensler-designed Jackie Robinson Museum marks the conclusion of a years-long effort by the JRF to bring the space, which opens widely to the public in September at 75 Varick Street in the Tribeca-adjacent Hudson Square neighborhood, to life. The museum project was first launched on April 15, 2008, to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the day that Robinson forever changed America’s favorite pastime—and 20th century American society at large—by joining the Dodgers. The initial planned opening was to follow in 2010. Delayed several years due in part to funding issues spurred by the recession, a groundbreaking ceremony was finally held in April 2017 with an anticipated opening in 2019. That obviously didn’t happen with the pandemic and supply chain shortages pushing back the opening even further.
In total, the JRF raised $38 million of a planned $42 million price tag for the new museum as part of its Legacy Campaign, with a bulk of that going toward construction costs.
Nearly 15 years after plans for the project were first announced, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held this morning at the new museum, which is populated by immersive exhibits chronicling Robinson’s vast achievements and, of course, no shortage of baseball memorabilia. Joining a slew of local officials and sports luminaries at the event were two of Robinson’s children, David and Sharon. Also present was Rachel Robinson, Robinson’s 100-year-old widow who first established the JRF in 1973. The new museum joins the renowned JRF Scholarship and JRF IMPACT, a recently launched online community for Black college students, as one of three core initiatives of the higher education-focused foundation, which is now also headquartered at 75 Varick Street. (Also known as One Hudson Square, the landmark 1929 building was designed by Buchman & Kahn and covered into a mixed-use office building in 2002.)
“The Jackie Robinson Museum is the realization of a dream for my family. My mother has long hoped for a permanent space where people learn about the issues my father cared deeply about and the change he fought hard to affect,” said David Robinson in a statement. “We hope the Museum will be a place to not only learn more about his time in baseball and love of sports, but about all that he did to contribute to social progress. We extend our deepest appreciation to everyone who helped make this dream a reality.”
As detailed in a press announcement, the Jackie Robinson Museum will “enhance” its parent foundation’s mission of promoting higher education while celebrating Robinson’s outsized impact, both on and off the field, through photography, extensive film footage, and a sizable trove of rare artifacts that number in the thousands. Items on view include Robinson’s Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded posthumously in 1984), a 1949 Most Valuable Player Award, and his original Baseball Hall of Flame plaque. Featuring over 11,000 square feet dedicated space for permanent and changing exhibitions, the museum, realized by Gensler as a “dynamic” space meant to “educate, inspire, and challenge visitors of all ages,” also includes classrooms and a gift shop.
“From an immersive experience of Robinson’s journey from California to spring training in the Jim Crow South to an interactive model of the historic Ebbets Field where he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the exhibits demonstrate the full arc of his life and lasting impact,” detailed Gensler.
In its coverage, the New York Times described the Jackie Robinson Museum as being the first museum in New York City to be largely dedicated to the civil rights movement.
Joining the New York office of Gensler on the long-awaited project was a core consulting team comprised of Structure Tone (part of STO Building Group), Buffalo-based Hadley Exhibits, Virginia-based creative media design and production company Cortina Productions, New Mexico–based Ideum, Zubatkin Owners Representation, and Delaware North, a food services and hospitality company also headquartered in Buffalo.
A slate of educational programing is also on tap at the Jackie Robinson Museum, including lectures, forums, and other events that, per the museum, tackle “issues central to Robinson’s legacy” including civic affairs, economic empowerment, educational access, and more. Coinciding with the opening of the museum are several special events including a block party and screening of the History Channel documentary After Jackie.
Now in preview mode, the Jackie Robinson Museum at 75 Varick opens to the general public Thursdays through Sundays beginning September 5 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with advanced registration required. Adult admission is $18.