The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted today to schedule a hearing on whether to designate the former Domino sugar processing plant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a landmark. The decision today, which was made in a unanimous vote, is the first of three steps required to make a building a landmark in New York City. Next, the commission will hold a hearing and then a final vote.
Sugar production was Brooklyn’s most important industry in the 19th and early 20th century. Large factories lined the East River waterfront, particularly in Williamsburg, where the largest group was concentrated. Among these plants, the former Domino sugar refinery, located immediately north of the Williamsburg Bridge, is the largest and most significant to survive.
The largest structure is the Filter House. Thirteen stories tall, it faces the East River and measures 250 by 80 feet. It was here that raw sugar entered the processing plant and mixed with charcoal, acid and water. Once all foreign materials were removed, the liquid sugar entered the Pan House, a nine-story structure at the southwest corner of Kent Avenue and South 2nd Street. Here, the liquid sugar was reduced to syrup and pumped to the Finishing House, where it was dried and graded for sale.
Frederick C. Havemeyer Jr., son of the company’s founder, began operating a refinery in Williamsburg in 1856. Located beside the waterfront, the Havemeyer & Elder Sugar Refinery prospered and grew. A fire, however, destroyed much of the plant in January 1882. Under Theodore Havemeyer, a new facility was built, the largest in the nation. The plant’s enormous capacity allowed the Havemeyers to control the American market, leading to the creation of the Sugar Refineries Company in 1887, later known as the American Sugar Refining Company. Though the plant’s architect has not been identified, it seems likely that these buildings were planned or designed by the company’s chief engineer, John van Vorst Booraem, who joined the firm in the same year as the fire.
Like most industrial buildings constructed in New York City during the late 19th century, it was designed in the Rundbogenstil or round-arch style, a variant of the Romanesque Revival style. Rooted in practical needs, the monumental brick facades have rows of round-arched windows that reduce the need for artificial light. The street facades display simple details, including brick piers and corbelling. A large oval smokestack dominates the west façade of the Filter House. Though the base is original, the section that rises above the roof was added following a major expansion of the refinery during the 1920s.
Despite these and other changes, the 1882-84 processing plant remained the heart of the complex, clearly visible from Brooklyn and Manhattan. In the 1970s, Domino ceased refining sugar at this location and these three buildings became vacant. The plant closed in 2004 and the site was acquired by the Community Preservation Corporation, which plans to convert the complex to residential use.