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Golden Jubilee Celebration Marks Half a Century of Community Building at Jackie Robinson Center

Friends, residents and leaders gather to honor original dedication of Jackie Robinson Community Center

Published on Monday, June 17, 2024 | 6:39 am

Old friends reminisced while elected officials made speeches and presented commendations, as hundreds of local residents gathered Saturday for the 50th anniversary of the 1974 dedication of the Jackie Robinson Community Center in Northwest Pasadena.

The celebratory event, which unfolded from noon to 2 p.m., began with an invocation by Pastor Emeritus William Turner, Jr. of the New Revelation Missionary Baptist Church. 

A choir performance by Friendship Pasadena & Friends, led by Candace West Lacy, enlivened the festivities. Later, Lacy delivered a moving acapella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the “Black National Anthem.”

A range of local elected officials were on hand for the ceremony, including U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu, former Pasadena Mayor and current State Assemblymember Chris Holden, State Senator Anthony Portantino (who rode his hybrid road bike from Burbank), and City Councilmember Justin Jones. 

Caprice Lee, Robinson’s niece, joined the festivities and acknowledged the impact the community center has had on her uncle’s old neighborhood.

On hand also were City Manager Miguel Márquez and Koko Panossian, Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services.

“Jackie Robinson showed us leadership, and his community activism brought harmony to not only the community that shunned him, but to the world,” said Holden. “And I think that when we look at 50 years of recognition of Jackie Robinson in Pasadena, this is probably the first place in America that had Jackie’s name honored in such a way.

“And so,” Holden continued, “When we think about the ensuing years, when people started to understand and become more accepting of change and recognizing not only the amazing accomplishments that Jackie Robinson brought to the field, but also the courage to step up and speak truth to power. And that’s what I see this center representing.”

Rep. Chu addressed the center’s future, pledging to secure federal funding for much-needed renovations. She noted that she has already submitted a $1.8 million proposal as a first step.

Following greetings from a representative of the Dodgers, who delivered remarks on behalf of Nichol Whiteman, CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, Kevin Johnson, principal planner, Design & Historic Preservation for Pasadena, gave some of the history behind the building’s original construction.

Johnson said that in the late 1950s, the Pasadena Redevelopment Agency proposed the Pepper Street project, which began the transformation of Fair Oaks Avenue. The new community center, which was going to be called the Northwest Community, would be located closer to Mountain Avenue. 500 buildings were identified for demolition to be replaced by luxury apartments and new commercial buildings along Fair Oaks.

The “Pepper Street Project” of 1966 would ultimately lead to the construction of the Jackie Robinson Center, while the proposed luxury apartments and commercial buildings became the Kings Villages housing development.

The Pasadena City Council approved the original plan in 1968, at the corner of Fair Oaks and Hammond, where Robinson Park and the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center now stand.

“The facility was originally planned to address both social and educational needs, but also recreational needs of the community,” said Johnson. “The recreational needs were then moved into a separate building across Fair Oaks and this facility was focused on the social and welfare needs of the community.”

The 17,000-square-foot facility would provide services related to health, employment, legal aid and counseling, meeting and office spaces, information resources, a senior’s reading room, and support spaces.

By the time the environmental documentation for the center was approved by the council in late 1972, the location had moved to 1020 N. Fair Oaks Ave. and engaged an architectural firm. A few months after that, the council approved the contract and the bids for the construction.

The building was dedicated on June 2, 1974.

Panossian discussed the center’s openness to the community’s needs, encouraging residents to approach staff with program ideas. 

“And if we do not provide a program that you are interested in for this community, please approach the staff, let them know what your idea is,” Panossian said. “Let us work through and provide a program that this community really wants at this center to add on to the programming we already have.”

Saturday’s ceremony also included the creation of a time capsule, not to be buried, but to be sealed and displayed at the center until its reopening. The time capsule will include a video of the celebration, postcards created by attendees, and research compiled for the presentations showcased during the event.

According to a Parks, Recreation, and Community Services employee, the decision as to where to display the locked wooden box will be made in a few weeks, as the Department continues to gather items to be included, including Polaroid photographs taken Saturday and autographed by the subjects.

A thumb drive of a video of Saturday’s event will also be included in the time capsule.

To cap off the event, Recreation and Community Services Superintendent Leticia Lopez and Deputy Director Lola Osborne unveiled a plaque commemorating the anniversary. Reverend V.R. Marianne Zahran, priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (which is next door to the Center on the north), read the original benediction that Father Wilkins said at the center’s grand opening in 1974.

The JRCC continues to align with Robinson’s lifelong pursuit of equality, offering inclusive classes, cultural events, and services for all ages, mostly free of charge. It serves as a welcoming space with a free computer lab, Wi-Fi access, and a cooling center during summer. The center also acts as a hub for city services like health screenings, passport assistance, legal aid clinics, immigration support, and resources for older adults.

Jackie Robinson, the famous baseball player and civil rights activist, lived in Pasadena from 1922-47. He excelled in multiple sports while enrolled at John Muir High School before going on to attend UCLA. In 1947, Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball. Throughout his life, he made significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and later became the first African American to serve as Vice President of a major American corporation.

For additional information, contact the  Jackie Robinson Community Center at (626) 744-7300.

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