February 22, 2006

Seven to Save: Williamsburg and Greenpoint's Industrial Heritage

Preservation League of NY: Williamsburg's Industrial Heritage is Endangered
On February 22, the Preservation League of New York State named the Industrial Heritage of Williamburg to its annual "7 to Save" list. The listing identifies Williamsburg as one of seven highly endangered historic resources in New York State. This nomination highlights the plight of Williamsburg's endangered building stock - factories, lofts, workers' housing and related civic architecture. More details on the "7 to Save" nomination can be found here and at the Preservation League of New York State.

March 1, 2007

Domino Petition Update

one domino.jpg
Domino Sugar, main refinery building.

For immediate release.

The Waterfront Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint & Williamsburg has submitted over 1,500 signatures requesting that the Landmarks Preservation Commission hold hearings to designate the Domino Sugar refinery building and Adant house as City Landmarks.

These signatures came from online petitions, street petitions and postcard campaigns launched by WPA over the past few months, and show a broad base of support for the preservation of this important part of Williamsburg's industrial heritage. Over 90% of the supporters of designation are New York City residents, and two thirds of the supporters are Brooklyn residents. More than one in ten supporters live on Williamsburg's Southside, and thus are Domino's neighbors. Almost a third of the supporters live in the North Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. The 1,525 names do not include the hundreds of postcards and emails that have been directly to Landmarks Chair Robert Tierney.

In 1852, Havemeyers & Elder opened the first sugar refinery on the Brooklyn waterfront. Within 20 years, they were joined by at least a dozen other refineries, as sugar became one of Williamsburg's predominant industries. The original Havemeyers refinery was destroyed by fire in 1882, and in 1883 the current refinery building, power house and Adant (sugar cube) house were constructed.

The site continued to operate as a sugar refinery until 2004, when Domino closed down their Brooklyn operations. The site has since been sold to a consortium that includes CPC Resources (the for-profit arm of the Community Preservation Corporation) and Brooklyn developer Isaac Katan. To date, the new developers have not committed to any preservation on the site.

WPA believes that these three surviving 19th century structures are an important part of Williamsburg's industrial history. These architecturally distinguished buildings, which make up less than a quarter of the seven-block Domino development site, should be designated as New York City landmarks and incorporated into the future development plans for the site. The main refinery is 12-stories tall, and the Adant house is four stories tall. Both buildings have had stories removed - stories that could be reinstated as part of a Landmarks-approved rehabilitation.

In submitting the petitions, WPA spokesperson Alice Rich said "the response to our petitions shows that there is very strong support within the community for a redevelopment project that includes historic preservation. WPA has tried very hard to work with the developer to put together a project that does exactly that, but to date we have not seen any plans. The Landmarks Commission has been looking at this site for well over a year, and we think it is time for the Commission to act."

The Domino site was part of the Preservation League of New York State's "7 to Save" endangered list of 2006. In addition to the Preservation League, designation is supported by the Municipal Art Society and Historic Districts Council. domino east 2.jpg

May 22, 2007

Domino Calendared!

Domino Sugar Refinery
Processing House
Photo: WPA

The Waterfront Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint & Williamsburg is pleased to announce that for the second time in as many months, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has calendared a significant north Brooklyn industrial site for designation as a New York City Landmark. This morning, LPC voted unanimously to designate consider for designation the processing house of the Domino Sugar refinery in Williamsburg Brooklyn. The processing house, which dates to 1883, is an icon of the Brooklyn waterfront. The structure housed three separate sugar refining operations in one vertically-integrated factory: the Filter House; the Pan House; and the Finishing House. The full operation of the plant is described in WPA's nomination to LPC, located here.

The designation calendaring of the Domino Refinery comes after a petition and postcard campaign coordinated by WPA and the Municipal Art Society. Thousands of neighborhood and city residents have written to LPC in support of this designation. WPA spokesperson Alice Rich, noting that this action is an important first step towards landmarking Domino, stated "landmarking means that the rich history of Williamsburg's past has a place in its future. Landmarking says that these buildings are significant and should be retained no matter what the future use of the site may be."

The Adant House (foreground).
Photo: WPA.

The calendaring focuses on only one building three buildings* in a six-block site located on either side of Kent Avenue between Grand Street and the Williamsburg Bridge. While much of the remainder of the site consists of more recent structures of lesser architectural value, the calendaring omits the Adant House at South 5th Street, an 1883 building in which sugar cubes were manufactured, and a smaller 1883 power house located adjacent to the processing plant. WPA has advocated for the preservation of these two structures, and will continue to do so. The designation of the processing plant would also free the remainder of the site from any meaningful design review, a situation which WPA has opposed.

Domino Sugar Refinery
Processing House
Photo: WPA

The processing plant was constructed in 1883 after a catastrophic fire destroyed the original 1854 Havemeyers & Elder refinery. The 1883 refinery was at one point the largest sugar refinery in the world. The Domino Refinery was active until 2004, when the plant was shut down and its operations moved to Yonkers, NY. It remains one of the largest industrial buildings on Brooklyn's once-thriving East River waterfront. After the plant closed, the property was acquired by the CPC Resources, a subsidiary of the Community Preservation Corporation. CPCR is expected to file soon to have the property rezoned for residential use. Last month, LPC voted to calendar the Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory in Greenpoint for a designation hearing.

In addition to MAS and the Historic Districts Council, the designation of the Domino refinery has also been supported by Councilmember David Yassky, who informed WPA that he wrote to LPC in September, 2006 in support of designation.

*UPDATE: As noted in the comments, there is some confusion about exactly what and how many buildings are up for designation. The building being considered is the Processing House, shown in photos 1 and 3 in this post. The processing house is actually three separate structures: the Filter House, which is the 12-story portion nearest the river; the Pan House which is the northern 2/3 of the 10-story portion along Kent Avenue; and the Pan House, which is the southern 1/3 of the 10-story portion along Kent Avenue. We have always referred to this conglomeration, which includes the large smokestack but nothing to the west of it, as one building. Landmarks has taken to calling this three buildings, which is fine. By that math, though, there are five buildings on the Domino site that were constructed in 1883, and Landmarks is only considering three of these. WPA continues to believe that the remaining two buildings, the Adant House (photo 2, above) and the Power House are significant, and that both could be preserved and incorporated into a reuse of the site. But mostly, we're excited that the Processing House (or the Filter, Finishing and Pan Houses) is (are) finally up for Landmark consideration. Clear enough? (Actually, it should be clearer if you look at our site plan in our Domino history post.) UPDATE #2: We were imprecise in some of our wording above; LPC has calendared the Processing House. That means that sometime in the (near) future, LPC will hold a public hearing at which the Commissioners will consider whether or not to designate the structure. Calendaring is the first step in the process, but Domino is by no means a City landmark (yet).

June 14, 2007

National Trust: Brooklyn's Industrial Heritage Endangered

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today that it is listing Brooklyn’s industrial heritage as one of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic resources. This announcement should provide a major boost for the efforts of WPA and other groups who are working to preserve this industrial heritage for future generations. The listing recognizes that Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront is undergoing significant changes, and challenges the notion that the city is better off just erasing this heritage from our shores forever.

This announcement by the National Trust comes only a year after the Preservation League of New York State listed Williamsburg’s industrial heritage on its annual list of 7 endangered state resources. Taken together, these two listings are the best evidence we can think of that Brooklyn’s industrial heritage is an important (and threatened) resource that should be protected, preserved and made a part of Brooklyn's future. The National Trust and the Preservation League both recognize the significance – local, state and national – of our industrial heritage, and hopefully this recognition will translate into more sympathetic ears here in New York City.

As many of you know, the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has been very busy in our waterfront communities. In the past few years, the Commission has calendared or designated major resources such as the Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse, the Hecla Iron Works building, the Smith, Gray & Co. building, the New York & Long Island Coignet Stone Company building, the Thompson Meter Company building, the Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory historic district, and the Domino Sugar Refinery. LPC is also (hopefully) very near ready to calendar the Dumbo Historic District.

LPC could be doing more, but two things slow them up. The first is funding, and here the City Council has come through again, setting aside an additional $300,000 in the FY’08 budget for LPC (up from last year’s $250,000 incremental allocation). The second and more critical hurdle is the strong resistance of the real estate community and some members of the City Council to landmarking in general, and landmarking Brooklyn’s industrial heritage in particular. Of course this played out most famously in the Austin, Nichols & Co. fight, where LPC did the right thing in designating this magnificent Cass Gilbert warehouse. The designation was turned down by the Council, with Councilmember Simcha Felder famously describing the building as a “piece of trash”. Even Mayor Bloomberg’s veto was not enough to change the Council’s mind, and the undesignation of Austin, Nichols stood.

So now the National Trust has weighed in, and thrown its support behind the Preservation League, LPC and Mayor Bloomberg in saying that Brooklyn’s industrial heritage matters. This gives a huge and welcome boost to groups like WPA and DUMBO Neighborhood Association, who have been leading the efforts to protect and reuse industrial buildings. Once again, we will be able to point to a major endorsement of our agenda for preservation. Perhaps now, some of the naysayers will have a change of heart.

BTW - The nomination for the 11-most-endangered list was put together by the Municipal Art Society, with help from groups like WPA and DNA. MAS (which has been a tireless promoter of this cause for a number of years now) has put together a great web site on Brooklyn's industrial heritage. The NYTimes has more here.

June 17, 2007

National Trust Follow Up

Press junket on the NY Water Taxi, passing the Navy Yard.
Photo: WPA

Its been three days since the National Trust listed Brooklyn's industrial waterfront as one of the nation's 11 most endangered historic resources of 2007, and the coverage (and impact?) continues.

The following is a brief sampling of the articles and blog posts that have appeared on the subject. For more fun, type "Brooklyn waterfront endangered" into a Google news search - read all 194 entries.

In the papers:

New York Times
Daily News
Daily News (again)
Associated Press (via Phila. Enquirer)
USA Today
Khaleej Times

On the air:

ABC News
NY1 News

On the intertubes:

Brownstoner again
Gowanus Lounge #1
Gowanus Lounge #2
Gowanus Lounge #3

Daily Intel
Architectural Record
Curbed again
American Shipper
Lost City (a bit bitter, they are)
Kinetic Carnival

May 4, 2008

BRT in the NYT

The Times' City Section had a piece today on the impending demolition of the Kent Avenue BRT power plant. In the article, a Con Ed rep admits that they company has no idea what they are doing with the site. They're not even sure if they are going to sell it. Given the lack of clarity on the site's future, we'll reiterate our position that its premature and wasteful to tear down a building that could be an excellent candidate for reuse. Doing environmental abatement does not necessarily require demolition.

Unless Con Ed is proposing to turn the site into a pubic park, there is no reason to tear down the building right now. Unless, of course, Con Ed isn't telling us something about their plans.

Eberhard Faber