Monday, November 7, 2016

A Gingerbread House Original Doll by T. J. Robinson

T. J. Robinson's Gingerbread House, specialized in gourmet Cajun cuisine and was located in Oakland, California and open for business, circa 1974 through 2007.

Thanks to a member of my doll group and founder of her own Facebook group, Laverne's Original Holiday Festival of Dolls, I learned about restaurant owner and doll maker, T. J. Robinson,  who sold dolls through the gift shop of her restaurant.

After I posted information about the  Festival of Black Dolls Show and Sale to be held in Oakland, California on November 12, 2016, Laverne recalled the following:

Years ago, I attend their doll shows in Oakland. I will have to check it out. Auntie Grace belonged to the club and was a collector. We would meet for dinner at T. J. Robinson's Gingerbread House in Oakland for dinner. This was a restaurant that was completely decorated with T. J. dolls and you had to make reservations weeks in advance. There were dolls all over the restaurant and the food was delicious. I will try to go through my photographs and look for this group and hopefully photos of Auntie Grace. Thanks for the Festival information. I did Holiday Festival of Black Dolls in Oakland and San Leandro several years running.
Of course I immediately wanted more information about T. J. Robinson and her dolls.  A Google search led me to an article published about the restaurateur and doll maker on pages 32 and 33 in the 1981 Aug/Sep issue of Ebony Jr.  Screen captures of the article follow:

The second doll from the left, in the article image, resembles the one I located online.

After reading the above article, I was fascinated by this woman's ability to pursue and make her childhood dream an adult reality.  I wanted to add a T. J. Robinson doll to my collection.  A search of eBay's current listings for "T. J. Robinson doll," resulted in a single, buy-it-now listing by a Floridian seller. To do a possible price comparison, I searched completed listings but found none.  The buy-it-now price was more than I desired to pay, so I asked the seller if the price was firm.  It was, as seller felt the doll was well worth the asking price.  My desire for the doll, the fact that no others were currently available online, none had recently sold online, and the seller's condition description led me to agree with the seller's price and to complete the purchase.

T. J. Robinson doll has embroidery-stitched face and star-shaped pupils.

After the doll arrived, I was rather disappointed with the condition of the white dress, which required an immediate hand washing to remove years of grime and to hopefully brighten the concentrated area of yellowing under the right arm of the dress. This was not clearly noticeable in the seller's photos and was not mentioned in the item description.  Soaking the dress in a basin of hot water with a mixture of liquid laundry detergent and OxyClean, rinsing it, and allowing it to hang dry resolved my disappointment.  

After the dress dried, I ironed it with a warm iron and straightened out several of the ribbon accents with the iron.  After redressing, she looked as good as I imagine she looked the day she was created. Because of the poor fit and their newer-than-the-doll's appearance, the white patent-leather sandals she was wearing did not look original to the doll.  I removed those and will replace with white knit booties. For now her feet are bare.

Before redressing the doll, this photo and the next were taken to illustrate how her body is constructed.

She has teddy bear jointed arms and legs and from head to toe measures 15 inches (not the 18 inches the seller described).  

This photo of the satin body tag on the doll's bottom, taken by the seller, confirms the doll is "A Gingerbread House Original Copyright 1974."  The physical address of the restaurant is also included on the tag.  
One last close-up of Tee-Jay, which is what I named her.

It must have taken Ms. Robinson several hours to create the multiple looped yarn braids and to hand-tie the multitude of white ribbons onto each.  Her love, patience, and devotion to her craft are very evident in all the extra touches she added.

Unfortunately, I will never have an opportunity to meet or speak with Ms. Robinson, who passed away on June 12, 2011.  Patrons of her gingerbread house*, which opened in the mid 1970s and remained open until 2007, will undoubtedly remember her fondly.  Those (like me) who own a Gingerbread House Original doll, handmade with love by T. J. Robinson, will remember her fondly. too.  

*Musician, songwriter, Chuck Mangione was so enamored by T. J. Robinson's Gingerbread House that he wrote a song about it, the lyrics of which can be read here.  (The song mentions her dolls!)


In a Facebook message dated 02/24/19, Noelle Cabral wrote:

Hi 😊 so I just stumbled across your Gingerbread House blog and I wanna give u a big virtual hug from Mama TJ. I just know it made her smile in heaven. That style of doll in particular was named Fauna. Fun fact she had mini dolls of herself produced dressed in white lace. It’s been so long, but if I can ever find mine I will send u a picture. I’m her only granddaughter
God Bless LOVED the article, warmed my soul. Thank you

So, my doll's name is Fauna.

Check out my eBay listings here.


  1. Wow that was the best story!! All of it. Just to think that there was a whole restaurant that had great food and dolls! That is the best combination ever. So inspiring and so literally fairy tale like. I love all the different articles and info you post, but something about this specific tale really resonated. Thank you Debbie. 😊

    1. Thank you Julius. I suppose there was a reason for me to share the notification of the upcoming Oakland Festival of Dolls Show information with the FB group members and that reason being for Ms. Hall to read the post and share her experience attending past shows and eating at T. J. Robinson's Gingerbread House. Ms. Robinson's story is a dream come true. That's probably why her story is so fascinating. After I read her delightful story, I knew I must own one of her dolls (even though I don't actively collect this type doll). I wanted one because 1) she made it and 2) it comes with such a rich history. The only thing better would be to have either met Ms. Robinson or visited her establishment. Since neither are possible, I have the next best thing, Tee-Jay.



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