Decimation of Domino

Submitted by on Jan 12, 2015


One building sums up the now two decade long gentrification of Williamsburg: Domino Sugar Factory. Its history, demise, battle to save and now decimation is a four-act play that can be seen throughout the neighborhood. So visceral and unretractable. I went by the other day and saw its graveyard six short months since the moving Kara Walker exhibit gave the place its eulogy.

Domino’s has been part of my vocabulary since I was a baby because my Dad worked there for many years. He had the night shift so that he and my mom, who worked at New York Life Insurance, could juggle taking care of me and my sister. I never stepped foot in the working factory. My Dad maintained the sugar processing lines and guests were not allowed. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Kent Avenue also seemed especially dark and dangerous to my child’s mind because my Dad would go to work after nightfall and come home way after bedtime. (only later did I learn of the prostitutes and gangs in the street’s shadows) What I knew of Domino’s was the smell that clung to my Dad’s blue workclothes, a savory sweet smell that didn’t quite match the white sugar pouring out of the Domino’s boxes in the house.

Domino’s holds an important part of Williamsburg’s manufacturing history. Its sugar refining origins belong to one of the earliest wealthy families in Williamsburg, the Havemeyers, (see Havemeyer Street) which went into the business in the mid 1850s. After a fire in 1882, the sugar refinery buildings on South 3rd along the waterfront were rebuilt in brick and stone. And the business was so successful that the parent, American Sugar Refinery Company, was one of the first twelve companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896!

My Dad left Domino’s in the mid-1980s but remained friends with many of his colleagues who tried to keep their jobs even as business declined. The refinery stopped operating in 2004, around the time I moved back to a very different neighborhood. And ten years later, I finally walked into one of the buildings where my Dad spent eight hour shifts plus overtime.

I took many pictures at the Kara Walker exhibit this past summer, but mostly of the pipes and the walls to show my Dad. He devoured the photos telling stories of what used to be in this section and what happened when that line broke down.

I went back a few days ago to piles of rubble where a massive building once stood. The strewn bricks unable to hold the brisk wind coming off the water. I shivered – so many lives and stories now buried.



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