Greenpoint has long been suffering the consequences of pollution, industrialization, and corruption (and pollution due to industrialization and corruption), and today’s particular lesson dates back over 100 years. On March 10, 1921, a crude oil vat exploded at a Standard Oil Company subsidiary — Sone and Fleming Oil Works on Kingsland Ave (and off the notorious Newtown Creek) — causing a three-alarm fire resulting in the destruction of four oil tanks, six men being injured by burning oil, and requiring 35 fire companies to put it out.
According to a report in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the explosion was caused around 11 a.m. by friction within the plant’s crude oil agitator, in which the first step of oil refinement takes place; 25,000 gallons of crude oil went up in flames. The fire reportedly died between 2 and 4 p.m. and, according to The New York Times, a shift in the wind helped firefighters keep the blaze under control.
However, this wasn’t the first fire at this location — two years prior on September 13, 1919, the neighborhood was devastated by a multi-day blaze destroying the entire 20 acres of the Standard Oil Company (including the office building) in what’s considered the “most terrifying fire in Greenpoint history” and one of the largest, most dangerous fires in Brooklyn history. It required thousands of firefighters and caused the evacuation of nearby residents and could be seen from as far as Long Island. There’s a belief that this fire was started intentionally for an insurance settlement.
Prior to becoming Standard Oil Company — owned by John D. Rockefeller — the refinery was known as Astral Oil Works, America’s first modern oil refinery built by Charles Pratt along Newtown Creek. Standard Oil Co. would go on to become Mobil, and later ExxonMobil, which played a not-insignificant role in the years-long oil spilling into Newtown Creek (set for cleanup to begin in…2032) to the tune of around 17 to 30 million gallons. In 2010, ExxonMobil was found liable for contaminating nearby groundwater by a federal jury and ordered to perform subsequent cleanup.