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MAS Comments to LPC on Domino Sugar Refinery

Full Title: MAS Testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding the Certificate of Appropriateness for 292-314 Kent Avenue, Havemeyers and Elder Filter, Pan and Finishing House, and Individual Landmark in Brooklyn, Block 2414 – Lot 25

The Domino Sugar Refinery was one of the most prominent and significant industrial operations in both Brooklyn and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. The refinery opened in 1858 and was largely rebuilt after a fire in 1882, resulting in the American round-arch style buildings that remain today.

By the 1870s, more than half of all sugar consumed in the United States was refined here. The Domino Sugar Refinery had an enormous economic and social impact on the development of Williamsburg and Greenpoint; many of the refinery’s employees were recent immigrants who lived in the surrounding tenements and boarding houses. When the refinery ceased operations in 2004, after 148 years in service, it was a substantial loss for the neighborhood.

Since its closing, the Municipal Art Society has advocated for Domino’s landmark designation and responsible adaptive reuse, from nominating the complex to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2005 through participation in the landmarks designation and the 2007 Draft Environmental Impact Statement review for the site’s rezoning. However, much of the original fabric of the Domino complex has been lost.

MAS is hopeful that this project will bring a strong reuse of the Domino Sugar Refinery, respectfully bringing together a cutting-edge and economically viable office building to the waterfront.

That said, we respectfully ask the Commission to work with the applicant to formulate a thorough preservation plan and finalize critical details of this proposal. The Preservation Committee at MAS is supportive of the project assuming that the many specifics about windows, finishes, patina, and the barrel vault can be resolved in a way the protects historic fabric and ensures that the new elements of the building reinforce the character of the refinery.

It is our understanding that any existing fenestration will be removed and extant recesses will be left in place. This treatment must be studied and documented in the masonry plan. We also seek a closer examination of the form and height of the barrel vault, including details on the size of the joints between glass panels. While we realize the presentation is currently at a conceptual level, refinement of these details is crucial to the success of the project.

Lastly, this application makes reference to potential interpretation of the site’s history in the adjacent park. Without this important context, the landmark is purely an aesthetic ruin. We suggest that a permanent exhibition in the ground floor public space would be better suited to a bold interpretative exhibit.

In closing, MAS supports the Domino Sugar Refinery proposal with the important condition that these critical details are resolved to the satisfaction of the Landmark Preservation Commission.