Before it was a gigantic apartment complex, this unassuming site tucked between Brooklyn’s Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhoods was the ballpark where Jackie Robinson made his major league debut, the proud home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. And before that, it was home to generations of families—and thousands of pigs.
From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, this part of the borough was known as Pigtown, a poor neighborhood of Irish and Italian immigrants on the outskirts of what was then the city of Brooklyn. The neighborhood was characterized by shanties, ash dumps, garbage piles, and, of course, pig farms with their associated stench.
In 1912, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets bought a plot of land in Pigtown for a new field to be bounded by Bedford Avenue on the East and Sullivan Place on the South. After years of financing troubles, the first exhibition game was played in Ebbets Field on April 5, 1913 against the New York Yankees. At this point the baseball field was still surrounded by stables and manure fields, but it marked the beginning of Flatbush as a developed, urban neighborhood.
Constrained from expanding by Bedford Avenue and the surrounding city streets, Ebbets Field developed into a right-handed hitter’s paradise as newly added seats moved the outfield wall closer to home plate. The Dodgers saw numerous successes here, winning 12 national league pennants. It was here at Ebbets Field that on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson debuted as Major League Baseball’s first black player. And it was here that “dem Bums” (as the Dodgers were affectionately known) won four of five pennants in 1952, 1953, 1954, and in 1955, when they finally beat the Yankees in the World Series.
Yet the end of the 1956 season, Ebbets Field was sold to a local real estate developer for more than $1 million ($9 million in today’s dollars). The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season and never looked back, widely considered the greatest hometown betrayal in American sports history.
In February, 1960, the baseball park was demolished. Two years later, the Ebbets Field Apartment complex was completed. At the time it was the largest state-subsidized housing complex in the five boroughs, home to 1,317 families. A small plaque read, “This is the former site of Ebbets Field,” but as time went on, many residents had no idea of their home’s historic significance.
Now the Ebbets Field property seems poised to enter Brooklyn’s latest phase. It had fallen into disrepair, but a new owner renovated the property in an attempt to take advantage of Brooklyn’s soaring rents. Studios will go for $1200 a month, a far cry from Pigtown and the “Bums.”