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Brooklyn’s Industrial Heritage: Now Less Endangered

save industrial brooklyn heritage

On June 14, 2007 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the industrial heritage of the Brooklyn waterfront to its annual list of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, based on a nomination made by the Municipal Art Society. Since that announcement, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has taken action to protect some of the most significant places on the waterfront and have held hearings on three of the sites highlighted in the MAS nomination.

domino sugar refinery brooklyn

For 148 years, ships delivered sugar cane from as far away as India to the Domino Sugar plant (originally American Sugar Refining Company) on the East River. In the massive factory buildings workers processed the cane into granulated sugar and packaged it for distribution. The Brooklyn plant was one of the largest refineries in the world, and by 1870 more than half of the sugar consumed in the entire country was refined here.

Now developers plan to rezone the site from manufacturing to residential and build residential towers that are planned to contain a significant number of affordable units. In advance of that plan being brought forward, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing regarding the designation of three of the brick buildings on the site.


MAS testimony to the LPC

MAS comments on the scope of the rezoning

dumbo brooklyn street view bridge

On July 24 the Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared the DUMBO Industrial Historic District (the first step in the landmarks designation process). The DUMBO district is unique to New York City for its nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial buildings, Belgian block streets, and its location on the East River by the imposing anchorage of the Manhattan Bridge.

terra cotta pencil factory building

The yellow stars and terra cotta pencils of the Eberhard Faber buildings are a fixture of Greenpoint’s landscape. The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company moved the Brooklyn in 1887, and over forty years built buildings over a two block area. And while today the Eberhard Faber buildings appear charming and modestly-scaled, this is where a pencil empire was born. Eberhard Faber was at one point the fifth largest employer in New York City.

The MAS has created a website,, which reveals the history of more than 100 important buildings and structures on the waterfront. On the interactive map, visitors can see photographs of the building from which Elvis and hundreds of thousands of GIs departed for foreign duty, learn where Kosher food and sugar was made in Williamsburg, and watch historic videos of ship repair in the Navy Yard.