Friday, October 31, 2014

Harte & Company Building - Greenpoint

Curved, glass block and brick wall at corner of Franklin Street and Commercial Street
Harte & Company Building, Corner of Franklin and Commercial
Manufacturing equipment on roof of Harte & Company building
Harte & Company Roof-top Manufacturing Equipment
The far northern end of Greenpoint between Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue is my favorite part of the neighborhood. It still retains some of the industrial character that once defined Greenpoint. Soon, much of what's left of that character will be erased as the area is transformed into gated communities in the sky. The next building up for demolition in northern Greenpoint appears to be the Harte and Company building at 280 Franklin Street. Although the Harte and Company building was among the buildings highlighted in the Preservation League of New York's "Seven to Save" list in 2006, the New York City Landmark's Preservation Commission declined Preservation Greenpoint's request to consider granting the building landmark status. Demolition permits have been filed for most of the building.[1] It seems to be only a matter of time before most of the structures are razed; however, demolition permits have not been filed for the main part of the building.[2] So, hopefully the iconic curved glass block wall and mechanical apparatus on the roof will be incorporated into the proposed development.

Harte & Company Building from corner of Franklin Street and Dupont Street
Harte & Company - Corner of Franklin Street and Dupont Street 
Aerial photo of Harte & Company Building
Aerial of Harte & Company Building
Harte & Company Building entrance
Harte & Company Entrance
Spanning half a city block, the Arte Moderne style Harte & Company building was constructed circa 1930 by an unknown architect.[2] The Nuharte and Company manufactured shower curtains, upholstery and other plastic products in Greenpoint's Harte & Company building until the plant closed in 2004. Prior to plastic manufacturing, the site was used for manufacturing boilers, light fixtures and soap.[3] The only piece of information I could find about the building in the Brooklyn Library's archives is that part of the building is an addition. Judging by aerial photography, my guess is that the building is two separate structures (highlighted in the aerial above). The granite veneer at the building's entrance on Dupont Street also appears to be an afterthought or addition to the original structure.

  1. Croghan, Lore "Greenpoint: Has the Sale of the former Harte & Co. Factory Closed" Brooklyn Daily Eagle online. 9 April, 2014.
  2. "Demolition Parmits Filed for Harte & Co. Factory Complex in Greenpoint" Brownstoner 26 August, 2014.
  3. Short, Arron "Greenpoint Plastics Company is a Superfund Site" Brooklyn Paper online. 20, July 2010.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Weeksville and the Hunterfly Road Houses-Crown Heights

Weeksville Heritage Center
Weeksville Heritage Center
The Hunterfly Road Houses are the remnants of Weeksville, a once thriving free African American community founded in New York shortly after slavery was abolished in the state. Weeksville was founded by James Weeks, a former slave from Virginia who wanted to empower his people with the right to vote. Unlike their white counterparts African Americans were required to own land in order to gain voting rights. So, when an economic downturn caused real-estate prices to drop James Weeks seized the opportunity to gain a political foothold by purchasing land in Brooklyn.[1] The neighborhood founded by Weeks also provided a safe and more prosperous environment for his people and served as a refuge for runaway slaves and those fleeing the draft riots in Manhattan. Weeksville was a self sustaining community that included its own doctors, teachers and social service providers.[2]

Two story white Hunterfly Road House
Hunterfly Road Houses
One story white Hunterfly Road House
Hunterfly Road House
Two story yellow and green Hunterfly Road House
Hunterfly Road House
Once lost to history, the connection of the Hunterfly Road Houses to Hunterfly Road and Weeksville were discovered in 1968 by a Pratt Institute Professor named James Hurley and pilot Joseph Haynes while conducting an aerial survey of Bedford Stuyvesant for a university project.[3] The Hunterfly Road Houses were built parallel to Hunterfly Road, a Colonial road that had once been a Native American trail. The four wood frame houses span from 1698 Bergen Street to 1708 Bergin Street and were built circa 1840 by an unknown architect/architects. They are the oldest surviving homes in the neighborhood.[4][5] The dwellings still retain the character of their once rustic setting and the land adjacent to the houses has been reworked to echo the pastoral aesthetic the area once had. Today the Hunterfly Road Houses are used as a museum run by the Weeksville Heritage Center for artifacts found during archaeological investigations.

Interior of Hunterfly Road House with chair and butter churner
Hunterfly Roadhouse Interior
Interior of Hunterfly Road House with chair next to quilt on quilt rack
Hunterfly Roadhouse Interior
Pictured above are items inside the houses that would have been used around the time that the homes were built.

Although my focus was on the architecture, there is more to see at the Weeksville Heritage Center than the Hunterfly Road Houses. The center also has a cultural arts facility featuring interpretive displays, exhibits, an event space and a garden. While I was there they had artifacts on display from their archeological collection as well as an exhibit on the changing demographics and gentrification of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. I recommend a visit to the Weeksville Heritage Center for anyone interested in Black History or the history of Brooklyn. Also, if you have kids you can make a day of it by visiting the Brooklyn Children's Museum nearby as well.

Tourist In Your Own Town #7 - Weeksville Heritage Center from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.

  1. Brooklyn Historical Society interpretive display
  2. Rezvani, Bijan "Weeksville" The City Concealed. online. 10 March, 2009
  3. "Hunterfly Road Houses" New York Preservation Archive Project. 2010
  4. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Houses on Hunterfly Road New York, 1970.
  5. Tours Page Weeksville Heritage Center online.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Domino Sugar Refinery - Williamsburg

Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg Brooklyn from the East River
Domino Sugar Refinery from East River
Opining in 1857, the 11 acre Domino Sugar Refinery was one of several Brooklyn Sugar Refineries built in the 19th century. By the turn of the century over half the sugar in the world would be produced in Brooklyn. Domino Sugar, previously known as the Havemeyers & Elder Filter, Pan & Finishing House, then, the American Sugar Refining co. was a conglomerate of 17 sugar refining companies that once combined made up the largest sugar refining company in the world.[1][2] By 1897 output of the American Sugar Refining co. was 1,200,000 tons of refined sugar a day.[3] The sugar refinery has hosted labor protests, community preservation rallies, parties and most recently an art exhibition. Today, most of the sugar refinery is being demolished to make way for a new mixed use development. 

Domino Suger Refinery from the East River toward the Williamsburg Bridge
Domino Sugar Refinery from East River
On July 28th, 1910 unrest over low wages and "various abuses" erupted into a riot of 1,000 refinery picketers on strike along with 2,000 sympathizers leading to clashes with police and Sugar Refinery security. "One man was killed, six were seriously hurt, and at least a hundred received minor injuries from the clubs of police." The death was that of Walla Noblosky who was allegedly shot by the company's cashier.[4] The riots would later be attributed to emboldening workers at the Greenpoint Terminal Market (American Manufacturing Co.) in nearby Greenpoint to go on strike.

View from Williamsburg Bridge of Domino Sugar Refinery undergoing demolition
Domino Sugar Refinery Undergoing Demolition
Domino Sugar Refinery Undergoing Demolition
Eventually market pressures including artificial sweeteners, government subsidized high fructose corn syrup and cheaper labor costs else-wear  lead to a decline in demand from the Brooklyn plant and on January 30th, 2004 all factory operations at the Williamsburg site ceased.[2][5] Around the same time much of the Brooklyn waterfront was rezoned for high rise residential development making the old refinery site an attractive property to real-estate developers. The site has changed hands a few times since 2004 with differing visions for the would be development. Each new version of development brought renewed conflict between developers and preservationists over the fate of the site's structures and land use. With historic buildings along the Brooklyn waterfront rapidly disappearing,  preservationists wanted to protect the industrial heritage of north Brooklyn and save the refinery structures from demolition. 

Save Domino Sign
Save Domino! The fight between developers and the community led to concessions on both sides. The current Developer increased the number of affordable housing units to be built in the development and are making efforts to preserve salvageable relics from the refinery, including the Domino Sugar sign, to include in the new site and building designs. The developers are also building accessible waterfront parkland and a school as part of an agreement with the city.

View of Domino Sugar Refinery's Landmarked Building from above on Williamsburg Bridge
Domino Sugar Refinery's Landmarked Building from Above
View of Domino Sugar Refinery from adjacent lot
Domino Sugar Refinery's Landmarked Building from Below
In addition to what the developers are voluntarily preserving, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted Landmark Status to one of the Domino Sugar Buildings in 2007 to protect it in perpetuity. The landmarked red brick structure was built 1881-1884 to replace a building that had been destroyed by fire. Designed by Theodore A. Havemeyer with Thomas Winslow & J.E. James in the American Round Arch style, a variant of the German Rundbogenstil and Romanesque Revival style, "the Filter, Pan and Finishing House were designed to give the appearance of a single monumental structure". At 150 feet tall plus a large chimney, the structure towers over the neighborhood. The building lacks setbacks and most of the ornamental brick work is concentrated on the upper stories of the building which allowed construction to proceed more quickly.[1] Topping the more ornate upper portion of the building, the renovated structure will have an added four stories of glass clad offices. Once finished, the Filter, Pan and Finishing House will be used as office space marketed to creative tech industries.

Kara Walker's grand scale Sugar Sphinx featured inside the Domino Sugar Refinery
Kara Walker's Sugar Sphinx
In June of 2014 the Domino Sugar Refinery was bid farewell with "A Subtlety" an art exhibit featuring Kara Walker. Her monumental Sugar Sphinx and human scale sugar babies are meant to remind the viewer of the horrors of the salve trades' involvement in sugar production and our connection to it. I had never read about the slave trade related to sugar; however, the artwork was very accessible and it wasn't difficult to understand the implications of the installation. Remembering the history of sugar seemed like a fitting end to the historic Domino Sugar Refinery - R.I.P. Domino (1857-2014).

Created with flickr slideshow.

The slideshow above includes additional photos including some interior shots. However, a more thorough photo exploration was undertaken by Paul Raphaelson. Paul was allowed into the site to photograph the iconic refinery prior to demolition and he is selling prints to finance production of his book "Sweet Ruin: The Brooklyn Domino Sugar Refinery".

  1. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Havemeyers & Elder Filter, Pan and Finishing House. New York, 2007
  2. Ellis, Will "Inside the Domino Sugar Refinery" Abandoned NYC. 21 May, 2012
  3. Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 15 February, 1897
  4. "One Dead, Many Hurt In a Bloody Roit of Sugar Strikers" Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 28 July, 1910
  5. McShane, Larry "Sugar Plant Closes after 148 Years" Associated Press. 29 January, 2004