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abandoned places

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Inside The Domino Sugar Refinery

Inside the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery's cavernous raw sugar warehouse.

Inside the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery’s cavernous raw sugar warehouse.

Situated on an eleven-acre parcel of waterfront in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, the derelict Domino Sugar Refinery remains one of the most recognized monuments of Brooklyn’s rapidly disappearing industrial past. Now, after a decade of false starts, new plans for a modern, mixed use megacomplex may put an end to the decaying colossus that was once the largest refinery in the world, marking the final passage of a working-class Williamsburg.

In the late 19th century, Brooklyn was responsible for over half of the country’s sugar production, with Havemeyers & Elders Sugar Company leading the pack of over 20 major refineries that called the borough home. The factory’s signature building—a towering redbrick structure that still stands today—was constructed in 1884 to replace an older sugarhouse that had been destroyed in a catastrophic fire. Three years later, 17 of the largest sugar refiners in the U.S. merged to form the Sugar Refineries Co. Trust, later reorganized as the American Sugar Refining Co., and branded as Domino Sugar in 1902. Domino and its predecessors operated on the waterfront for a total of 148 years; at its peak, the site employed over 5,000 workers, capable of producing over three million pounds of processed sugar a day.

American Sugar Refinery

The American Sugar Refinery Processing House shown after its completion in the 1880s.

With the growing use of high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners came a steady decline in demand for old-fashioned cane sugar. Production at the Williamsburg plant ended in the early 2000s with partial packaging operations lingering until 2004. The non-profit Community Preservation Corporation purchased the Domino site the same year for $58 million. Their plan would preserve and renovate the central refinery building, landmarked in 2007, and raise a battalion of architecturally offensive residential high-rises in the footprint of the surrounding industrial complex, razing the Raw Sugar Warehouse, constructed in 1927, and the Packaging House, a 1962 addition, in the process.

New Domino Rendering

The old “New Domino” complex.

Two Trees teamed up with noted NYC firm SHoP Architects—the group is already leaving a lasting impression on the city landscape with the Barclay’s Center and the East River Esplanade.  Unveiled Friday, their monumental plans seem tailor-made to appease the new population of Williamsburg, without limiting profits.

The plan is similar in scope to the vision of the CPC, with several key improvements. The buildings rise higher—up to 60 stories—to allow for more park space, including a one-acre “Domino Square,” where builders envision film screenings and outdoor concerts. Some of the structures include open spaces and sky bridges, an innovative solution sought to preserve harbor views for the inland community. The landmarked refinery building would be preserved and converted to office space, and several pieces of machinery would be salvaged for inclusion in a public “artifact walk.” In the face of such monumental changes, this may be of some consolation to New York nostalgics.

The new rendering.

The new rendering.

Developers are working with the YMCA to establish a community space on the site, and are also proposing a new public school. Street level retail would favor independent business over chain store tenants. Two Trees also intends to deliver on the previous developer’s promise of 660 units of “affordable” housing, though the condition was never legally binding.

With all these benefits, Two Trees is attempting to pacify a community that is weary of change, and concerned for its future. The Domino development marks a clear and dramatic manifestation of a contentious transition that’s been taking place in Williamsburg for the last decade.  The area is well known today as an infamous haven for hipster youth, but 10 years ago the neighborhood was a quiet, working-class community of Jewish, eastern European, and Hispanic immigrants. Now, it won’t be long before the tattooed and the trendy are priced out, leaving room for only the wealthiest New Yorkers. Emerging across formerly affordable areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the familiar pattern is destined to change the face of our city.  Call it progress or gentrification. Praise the plans, or lament the loss, there’s no stopping the reckless growth of New York City.

Packaging Plant_Domino Sugar Refinery_3615_1080

Eerie interiors of the abandoned packaging plant.

 

In its final moments, the Domino Sugar Refinery slips further into a speedy decay, introducing an element of the exotic to an already unfamiliar environment. Some of the alien interiors are coated with shallow puddles of tar, or dark sugar byproducts rendered the consistency of glue, or apple crisp. Others take on the appearance of an Egyptian temple in the impenetrable darkness, with row upon row of columns supporting the chasm of a vacant warehouse. Tinged aquamarine, the peeling factory floors of the packaging plant might be confused for the barnacled mechanisms of a sunken ship.  The complex is unnervingly immense, presenting a seemingly endless series of floors connected by lightless, labyrinthine staircases. Alone in a factory that once employed thousands, up against its unfathomable depths, it felt like being in the belly of the whale—it didn’t take a miracle to get me out of there.

The next time you ride down the FDR or traverse the Williamsburg Bridge, take a good look at the sprawling industrial giant that was the Domino Sugar Refinery; it won’t be long before it’s preened and polished into the marketably modern new New Domino—another of the city’s rough edges, smoothed over in favor of gleaming glass.

Green Storage Cabinets_Domino Sugar Refinery_3608_1080

A storage room in the soon to be demolished packaging house.

Loading Bay_Domino Sugar Refinery_3535_1080

A dilapidated loading bay in the Domino Sugar Refinery.

Locker Room_Domino Sugar Refinery_3581_1080

This locker room looked like something out of a horror movie.

Locker_Domino Sugar Refinery

A smaller (women’s?) locker room.

Chute_Domino Sugar Refinery

Machinery in the colossal Raw Sugar Warehouse.

Eyewash_Domino Sugar Refinery_3507_1080

An eyewash station.

Factory Interior_Domino Sugar Refinery

The factory interior.

Packaging_Domino Sugar Refinery

Another view of the packaging plant.

Office_Domino Sugar Refinery_3527

An emptied office overlooking the East River.

Vacant Warehouse_Domino Sugar Refinery

This warehouse was pitch black to the naked eye.

Window Light_Domino Sugar Refinery

Evening light streaks through a painted window.

Handtruck_Domino Sugar Refinery_3524_1080

This handtruck might have sat untouched for a decade.

Packaging Plant Exterior_Domino Sugar Refinery_3613_1080

A view of the complex from the roof of the packaging plant.

Exterior_Domino Sugar Refinery_3520_1080

The landmarked refinery building as it stands today.


 

But wait… There’s more! (Please excuse this brief sales pitch.)

 

Abandoned NYC, the book, is now available for pre-order!

 

Abandoned NYC is packed with 150 full-color photographs of sixteen of New York’s most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces, including several you haven’t seen on the blog, with updated essays on the fascinating history behind these forgotten sites. I’ve kept this quiet up until now and I’m so excited to share it with all of you!  Stay tuned for signings and events in February. :)

 

 

Free Print when you order through this link!

 


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Bayley Seton Hospital: Part II

Flooded Hall

Flooded Hall.

I wasn’t able to track down any information on the function of this obscure outbuilding of the Bayley Seton Hospital complex in Stapleton, SI.  The austere, three-story edifice is the only abandoned structure within the active section of Bayley Seton, situated on the northeast corner of the grounds behind the main building.  The rest are fenced off and awaiting demolition after being sold to make way for a new development—it’s likely that this building may hang on for a bit longer.

For a detailed history of Bayley Seton Hospital, refer to my last post on the Nurses’ Residence.

If you have any information on this building, please enlighten me in the comments below.

Flooded Basement Bayley Seton

My favorite room in Bayley Seton Hospital.

Another view of the Utility Room. This door fell out of the wall when I tried to open it.

Dark Hallway Bayley Seton

Evening light penetrates a dark hallway.

Room with Block Windows

A crumbling passageway.

Bayley Seton Hospital Outbuilding

The floor of this room was covered with a rank, pulpy, mush—apparently the remains of ceiling panels that had gone to rot.

Glass Block Hallway Bayley Seton

Glass block windows installed on the first floor.

Fallen Furniture in Bayley Seton

One of several pieces of furniture remaining in the building.

Bayley Seton Toilet

A toilet with a strange weighted contraption.

Examination Chair

An examination chair tucked away in the stairwell.

$10 Sexy Time

Graffiti in the building was minimal, but this bit stood out.

Bayley Seton Hospital Building Exterior

The building at sunset, just before a security guard asked me to leave…

Shedding Light on a Forgotten Red Hook Warehouse

160 Imlay St. in Red Hook

Two stark, imposing sister buildings at 160 and 62 Imlay St. tower over the industrial wastes of Red Hook, Brooklyn.  One recently renovated into a high-tech Christie’s storage facility for multi-million dollar works of art, the other a hulking, empty shell, waiting for a second life.

Constructed in 1911-13, the identical twin loft buildings on 160 and 62 Imlay St. began their lives as storehouses for the New York Dock Company.  They made up a small part of a “globe-encircling commercial undertaking,” which included a sprawling network of 200 warehouses, 39 piers, and three ship-to-rail freight terminals extending over three miles of the Brooklyn Waterfront.

Rapidly declining profits and outdated infrastructure resulted in a cessation of operations in 1983.  The buildings were purchased by a developer in 2000 and 2002 for a combined 22 million.  In 2003, plans for a residential overhaul of 160 Imlay fell through as a result of a lawsuit from the local Chamber of Commerce, which sought to retain an industrial use for the property.

Now at 62 Imlay St, floors once flooded with tobacco and cotton are welcoming a new set of residents—multimillion dollar works of art by the likes of Van Gogh, Brancusi, and Pollack.  The facility is leased by the high-profile auction house Christie’s and is equipped with “infrared video cameras, biometric readers and motion-activated monitors, as well as smoke-, heat- and water-detection systems.”

Adjacent sits the other sister with an uncertain future, its broad, vacant interiors shielded with plastic and shrouded in black netted scaffolding, gutted in preparation for a rumored second attempt at a residential conversion.

Third Floor - Imlay Street

160 Imlay Elevator Shaft

160 Imlay St.

Abandoned Red Hook Building

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