The philosopher George Santayana once famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I do not know if Santayana ever visited our area, but Santayana’s words relate to North Brooklyn’s struggle to recall its unique history and preserve the landmarks that help us remember our area’s fascinating past.
Last Saturday, I led about 75 hard souls who braved the rain on a walking tour of the Domino Refinery, which was once the largest sugar refinery in the world, processing at its height one-eighth of all the sugar refined on the planet! Today, the great refinery is being transformed into a mixed-use development.
Although the façade of the Domino building is landmarked and must be preserved, the building’s interior is being removed and it will become luxury condominiums and offices. Already huge metal stanchions have been attached to the exterior wall to facilitate gutting the historic refinery. Our history is being destroyed before our very eyes. Continue reading →
Few people realize that many of the greatest pieces of art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s amazing collection were purchased with sugar money that was made right here in North Brooklyn. For decades, North Brooklyn was the largest sugar refining region on planet earth and hundreds of millions of dollars were made in its dozen or so refineries that once lined the banks of the East River. Simply put, local sugar production funded the purchase of many of the greatest works of art in the Met, and without Brooklyn sugar money the museum never would have become one of the greatest art collections in the world. Continue reading →
Domino Park, the public space concession that Two Trees promised to throw into their larger Domino Sugar redevelopment project, will open to the public June 10. The park will stretch from South 5th to Grand Streets, and feature picnic areas, bocce ball courts, a dog-run and a sugar-factory-inspired playground.
The park has some deep design bonafides. It was designed by James Corner Field Operations, the same firm that helped design the High Line. Accordingly, Domino Park will have a High Line of sorts all its own. This will take the form of an Artifact Walk, an elevated catwalk that will feature the salvaged industrial innards of the Sugar Factory. Items on display will include dials, meters, valves, tanks and bucket elevators. Additionally, the Brooklyn Historical Society will curate a small, permanent exhibition about the site’s history which will be on display inside the converted refinery. Continue reading →
January 9th marks the one hundred thirty-sixth anniversary of one of the most destructive fires in North Brooklyn. On a frigid January night, the Havemeyer and Elder Refinery, which would forty years later be renamed as Domino, went up in one of the most spectacular fires the area had ever witnessed.
The refinery, the largest building in Williamsburg at the time, was nine stories high, covering an entire block on Wythe Avenue between South Third and South Fourth streets and stretching some two hundred feet in from the street to the East river shore. Having been in the sugar business for more than eighty years, the Havemeyer family knew the danger that fires often broke out in sugar refineries. The presence of steam, thousands of moving parts that could cause sparks in the refinery and the highly flammable sugar all made fire a grave risk. For a quarter century they had refined huge amounts of sugar without incident, but their luck would run out that January day. Continue reading →
Although the former Domino Sugar refinery on Kent Avenue does not lie in Greenpoint, the building and the firm that ran it, Havemeyer and Elder, cast a long shadow over local history. Having spent the summer researching the plant for my upcoming book The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King, it is hard to express how much suffering is associated with the refinery.
The plant, which was opened in 1858, employed thousands of Greenpointers over its almost a century-and-a-half of existence. Much of the reason that we have a Polish population today is because the refinery had a policy of hiring Slavic men, principally Polish, who could not recount to outsiders the misery that working in the plant entailed. They worked in horrendous conditions that we can scarcely imagine today. Continue reading →
To understand the history of Greenpoint and Williamsburg you have to grasp the massive role that refining played in this heavily industrial corner of North Brooklyn. Our area became the world’s largest refiner of oil and sugar and the owners of these refineries became unbelievably wealthy. A lot of writers have told the story of local oil refining, but until now there has been a dearth of information about the massive local sugar industry here, so I wrote The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King to trace the powerful effect sugar refining had on North Brooklyn. Continue reading →
Step inside the futuristic, BMW-0wned co-working space A/D/O that is slated to open in Jan. 2017. The 23,000 square-foot facility will have a Scandinavian-style restaurant, retail space and a public seating area; a membership will cost you $600/month.
The Bowery Presents newest venue is Brooklyn Steel, a 1,800 person capacity general admission concert venue near the intersection of Frost St, and Debevoise Ave., is set to open early next year with performances by the Pixies and PJ Harvey, amongst others.
NYC-based band Loose Buttons released “Milk & Roses,”a song inspired by lead singer Eric Nizgretsky’s breakup following a meal at the Manhattan Ave. restaurant. Continue reading →