Domino Park officially opened to the public yesterday, providing access to an area of waterfront that hasn’t been in public use for decades.
The six-acre, mixed-use park, designed by James Corner Field Operations and privately developed by Two Trees Management, reuses structures that were used by the Domino Sugar Refinery, winking at the past amid taco stands, fanciful water fountains and dog runs. Most striking are a set of syrup tanks astride a small pier gap where visitors can gaze at the swirling waters below (enhanced with a misting machine for maximum drama).
While enjoying the breathtaking view of the Williamsburg Bridge and the East River, take a moment to turn around and see some truly strange architectural juxtaposition — the crumbling sugar refinery and the new condo at 325 Kent Avenue. (We have a podcast episode on the Williamsburg Bridge that we recommend: Crossing to Brooklyn.)
The Domino Sugar Refinery has been a vital component of the Brooklyn waterfront for over a century and a half.
From an article I wrote for this site several years ago:
William Havemeyer, a German apprentice at a London refinery, and his brother Frederick moved to America in 1799 to take the reigns of a failing sugar factory at 29 Pine Street – essentially on the back door of Federal Hall, once the center of America’s fledgling government and just around the corner from the stock exchange. In 1805 the brothers moved their refinery to 14-16 Vandam Street in Soho.
Business spread to its current location in Brooklyn after William’s grandson Frederick C. Havemayer moved it there in 1856. At one point the sugar kings were so successful they ran a virtual monopoly of business along this area of the waterfront and kept most of North Brooklyn employed through the early part of the 20th century. At one time, this site produced 60 percent of the entire nation’s sugar. Domino, of course, still makes sugar but this particular site was shut down in 2004.
The current cosmopolitan ghost factory consists of several factories and warehouses at 5th and Kent Ave., the oldest one, the power house, from 1884. (The buildings range in age, because it seems the Havemeyers had a nasty problem of their buildings occasionally burning down.)
But it’s the flashy and dramatic Domino’s sign that had actually captured New York’s imagination and transformed the building into an indelible mark on the skyline. It was hoisted up in 1967 with the time and temperature added underneath it the following year.
But that sign is nowhere in sight at the new park. It was removed in 2014 and will hopefully hoisted to the top of the sugar factory once it has been renovated. Which, from the look of things, isn’t happening any time soon.
And while you’re over there, pull out your headphones and listen to our podcast on the making of the Williamsburg Bridge! It will give you a lot of insight on that area and the importance of the Brooklyn waterfront.