November 2017
« Oct    

Stay In Touch

Sweet Future for an East River Icon?

domino sugar factory

The Domino Sugar Refinery buildings in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — one of the most prominent industrial heritage sites on the East River — is endangered by a major residential development proposal, but help may be on the way.  The MAS has requested that the Landmarks Preservation Commission designate the 13-building complex as a city landmark so that it can be preserved and reused, and to ensure that any buildings added to the site will fit with the site’s historic character.

“A landmark designation for the Domino buildings would be a win-win for Brooklyn,” MAS President Kent Barwick said. “The borough can have exciting new waterfront development providing sorely needed housing, and at the same time these historically and architecturally significant buildings can be preserved.”

The original buildings of the American Sugar Refining Company opened just north of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1858. A fire destroyed the complex in 1882, and the existing buildings were constructed on the same site. The refinery was one of the most prominent and significant industrial operations in the nation in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1870, Theodore Havemeyer — the patriarch of the family that ran the company — claimed that five-eighths of the sugar consumed in the country was refined in Brooklyn. By 1907, the Havemeyer family’s “sugar trust” controlled 98 percent of the sugar production in the United States. This led to federal inquires and a requirement to dissolve the trust in 1910.

The Havemeyers registered the now-familiar Domino brand name in 1902, but it was not until 1960 that they installed the familiar and beloved Domino Sugars sign. After 148 years of processing sugar on the East River, production ceased in 2004.

The factory had an enormous economic and social impact on the development of north Brooklyn, employing scores of recent immigrants, many of whom lived in the surrounding tenements and boarding houses. Today, the red brick buildings with their distinctive round-arched window openings continue to play a role in defining the character of this community.

Hundreds of residents of Williamsburg sent postcards to the Landmarks Preservation Commission requesting that they designate this significant site. These residents appreciate that these buildings played a critical role in shaping the neighborhood’s past, and today play an important role in shaping the character of their waterfront. They also know that neighborhoods where manufacturing and industrial buildings are retained and reused, like DUMBO, TriBeCa and SoHo, have an exciting and artistic character and some of the highest property values in the city.