Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg: The Opening of the Domino Waterfront

We've just returned from spending a decent chunk of the afternoon at the Domino Sugar Refinery waterfront, which more or less suddenly opened for a few hours after being closed to the public for over a hundred years.

We're not sure where we first got word of this late Friday night, but it seemed to be a last-minute thing. Several people, including our urban historian friend Justin Ferate, honored by the New York State Tourism Council as "New York's Most Engaging Tour Guide," sent us almost frantic emails, and then this morning we spotted a poster which looked as if it was freshly hung.

(Photo of Domino sign somewhat the worse for wear courtesy of Barek 176, who has more terrific pics of today's event at Flickr.)

It wasn't listed on the events calendar of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, and the first online notice seems to be on the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) blog, which said "The developers of the Domino Sugar Factory site are allowing the public to go down to the waterfront this Sunday."

The poster said the waterfront would be open starting at 2 p.m., but other sites, like this one copied another press release that said
Unlocking gates that have been closed to the public for more than 100 years, officials of Refinery, LLC, the developer of the Domino Sugar site, invite local residents and their friends and families to enjoy a “Sunday in the Park” on the Williamsburg, Brooklyn waterfront at the foot of South Second Street and Kent Avenue on Sunday, October 19 at 2:30 p.m.

So we went at 3:30 p.m., bundled up for the chilliest day since last April. Having lived in South Florida for over two decades, we think any day that doesn't reach 70 degrees is too cold, so it does take a once-in-a-century happenstance to get us to go to an outdoor event in this frigid fall weather.

(Photo courtesy The Three Jays)

Taking the B24 bus from the corner of Metropolitan and Lorimer to the last stop by the Williamsburg Bridge terminal, we walked past the old Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building and Peter Luger's to make our way on South 2nd Street to Kent Avenue, where the right-hand side of the big gate between two factory buildings was open.


There wasn't a sign that said NO BICYCLES, but the security guard called back a bearded guy in racing-bike attire who was carrying his wheels and said no bicycles were allowed. He protested the lack of any notice, and we found it curious that some emails we got about the event, like the one from our friend Neil Feldman at Not Only Brooklyn: Wondrous and Free Events (, called it "Sweet bicycling on the Domino Sugar Refinery waterfront" in their listings.

Anyway, eventually the security guard agreed to let the guy leave his bike at the gate, though he said he couldn't guarantee its safety. We walked in with a quintet of Hasidic young men and were all greeted with, "Welcome to Domino, gentlemen" from a middle-aged woman whose connection with the event didn't seem evident.

For a kind of impromptu opening, it was actually well-done. The broad walkway stretched from S. 2nd Street down to just under the Williamsburg Bridge (S. 5th Street?), and while we were there it seemed anything but crowded although we estimated well over a hundred people were there.

(Photo courtesy of the Waterfront Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint & Williamsburg)

Temporary fences from National Rent-A-Fence kept us from going down to the water from the path or, on the other side, to the grounds of the factory buildings proper, where outdoor signs read HARD HAT AREA and SAFETY FIRST - EYE PROTECTION REQUIRED IN THIS PLANT.

Lots and lots of people were taking photographs with expensive equipment and cell phones. As we walked in, a cameraman/reporter from News 12 was on his way out, and we later saw someone from WABC-TV/7 news.

Evidently trucks once rode on what we were using as a walkway, as there were a couple of high traffic lights with signs close by: TRUCKS STOP HERE ON RED SIGNAL - GO ON GREEN. Duh.

(Photo courtesy of aur2899, who has a few other great pics of the factory from today at Flickr.)

The Two Boots of Brooklyn banner was in front of a table where people seemed to be giving out only drinks, though perhaps we got there too late and all their usual delicious Cajun and Italian eats were gone.

We did stand on a short line to get bright blue cotton candy for the first time since, um, probably Rockaways Playland circa 1964. After quickly reminding ourselves of the taste and mouth feel, we discarded most of it, wondering if Domino Sugar had been spun. "The New Domino" company was certainly engaging in spin, we guess, about engaging community support for their plans for the landmark. (We're not really familiar enough with the apparent controversy to say anything coherent.)

(Photo of someone who enjoyed cotton candy more than we did courtesy of Matt Semel, who has a beautiful photostream of today's event at Flickr.)

After seeing a couple of hipster ladies in leather jackets playing dominoes at one of the white plastic tables scattered along the site, we realized we could get a free set of dominoes in a pretty wooden box, with DOMINO written on the top and "the new DOMINO" on the side. The instructions inside were in German:
Wenn keiner der Spieler mehr einen passenden Stein besitzt, hat derjenige gewonnen, dessen restliche Steine den niedrigsten Punktwert ergeben.

(Photo courtesy EV Grieve, who has an interesting take and maybe 20 more pics at the EV Grieve blog, which contains "things that you may or may not be interested in about the East Village and other parts of New York City." [We, at least, are interested].)

Two large posters of a diverse group of Williamsburg residents enjoying themselves on the grass and walkway of the future greenway were hung on the fence with an attached sign FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY. Still, we were mightily impressed, as well as by the map of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway project area spanning 14 miles from Sunset Park to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

(Photo courtesy Ponara Steven Eng for MetroPost, which calls today's event "Domino Sugar Perestroika")

There were tables from the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway Initiative where people could take leaflets and sign up for their mailing lists. Free bags of popcorn - they'd have to pay us to eat popcorn - were also available at a nearby table, though it was bereft of a sheet to sign up for the popcorn mailing list.

In addition to the white plastic chairs and tables, green plastic fake-Adirondack chairs were scattered along the walkway overlooking the East River. A trio of musicians, sitting, featured a female singer and two instrumentalists, who were low-key and laid-back.

(Photo of the view from the waterfront courtesy of Barek 176, who has other wonderful photos of today's event at Flickr.)

The view was the great attraction. It was a gorgeous vista. At the south end, we could see the underside of the Williamsburg Bridge and lower Manhattan, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and Statue of Liberty clearly visible in the crisp air.

Across the river to the north the east side of Manhattan stretched before us, with all the familiar landmarks of the always-thrilling skyline looking shiny and bright. Towards the north the Queensboro Bridge stood, with hulking brown apartment buildings (from Queens? The Bronx?) in the background.

(Photo courtesy EV Grieve, who has an interesting take and maybe 20 more pics at the EV Grieve blog.)

New York City, and particularly Brooklyn, has made shockingly little use of the spaces around its many waterways. We grew up just two blocks from the brackish waters of Mill Basin, and while we loved listening to the sound of foghorns and the fishy smell in the air on overcast spring days, access to the waterway was blocked totally by tall fences, beyond which were an oil refinery (that in the late 1950s was the site of a horrific fire that blackened our neighborhood skies and made the air weirdly hot and smoky) and later, the parking lot of the Kings Plaza Shopping Center.

We had to drive twenty minutes to the beach at Rockaway to get our fix of a view from the shoreline.

No surprise, then, that our first apartment was a studio in a building right up against the boardwalk on Beach 118th Street, where we could stroll and see the sea - or watch it from the terraces at the Shore Front Parkway highrise apartments of both sets of our grandparents a a dozen blocks away.

In Florida we nearly always lived off a lake. Our apartment door at Cameron Cove in Davie - where we rented four different apartments from 1988 to 2005 - would open to the water, where we'd see Muscovy ducks afloat and blue herons spreading their wings on the shore.

As we overheard a happy Roman Catholic priest tell his friends in suits (the developers?) as we made our way out, "Everyone's loving this!"

(Photo courtesy the very astute and fashionable blogger Harry Podder and the Big Apple, who's got a dozen really nice pics of today's scene at his blog, which also has many other posts that make for interesting reading.)

As we waited across Kent Avenue for the Q59 bus to take us to Metropolitan and Union Avenues, we wondered, "The waterfront: what's not to love?"

Let's hope the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is a part of our lives as soon as it can be. And let's hope the new Domino people will open up their part of the waterfront again when we can stroll in the outfit God intended us to wear, shorts and a t-shirt.

1 comment:

Norman Oder said...

More clues here: