The View from Domino Park

When Domino Park opened to the public this summer, the new park on the Brooklyn waterfront also revealed a long section of the shoreline that had been inaccessible to the public for the past 160 years.

The waterfront at Domino Park, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

On the banks of the East River in Williamsburg near Kent and South 4th streets, this area of the waterfront was from the early days easily accessible by ship, beginning with the first Dutch explorers. In 1856 F. C. Havemeyer selected the site for a refinery.

View from the elevated walkway, Domino Park.

Later known as Domino Sugar Refinery, the company employed thousands of European immigrants, and later Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and African Americans. Converting sugar from a raw to a refined state involves hard labor, beginning with the work of the longshoremen who unloaded the ships.

In 2014, the site served as an installation piece by artist Kara Walker whose massive sphinx with African features and nearby attendants addressed the story of race and labor.*

The old Domino Sugar Refinery is slated for redevelopment.

Domino Park includes large artifacts from the refinery days. Mooring bollards painted aqua blue once secured ships that brought sugar cane to the docks for refining. The screw conveyors, bucket conveyors, and hoist bridge moved the sugar around the stages of the process.

The playground at Domino Park 

The 5-acre park includes an elevated walkway, a post-industrial playground designed by artist Mark Reigelman, a cool Fog Bridge with misters, syrup collection tanks, a bocce court, an interactive fountain that shoots up jets of water, and a dog run. Based on a recent visit, children and dogs love this park. James Corner Field Operations whose notable work in NYC includes The High Line, Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island, and the landscaping for Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island designed the park.

Tacocina, the taco stand at Domino Park

Tacocina, a colorful taco stand from the Union Square Hospitality Group (Danny Meyer) offers tacos, snacks, and drinks for sale.

Domino Park brings together many elements of a successful public space - proximity to nature, choice of activities, various arrangements for seating, access to food, and water features. While creating a post-industrial playground, the park also pays homage to the historical context of the Industrial Age in New York. Whether all attendees appreciate and understand this history is another matter.

Chicken adobo tacos, shrimp taco, chips and guacamole at Tacocina in Domino Park

The large refinery building, both magnificent and ominous in its abandoned state, will be refashioned as an office building. The site developer, Two Trees Management, is currently constructing several residential buildings nearby.

A Circle Line boat in the East River

The exceptional view from the park, a panorama from Lower Manhattan to the skyscrapers of Midtown, reveals the larger picture of a city made rich and powerful through the ability to move goods and labor along the waters and to the shoreline.

Directions: The park is accessible by subway via the M, J, Z train (Marcy Av.), or by boat via the NYC Ferry’s South Williamsburg ferry landing. See map below.

View of Domino Park from the East River

* The title of Kara Walker’s 2014 site-specific work is A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Domino Park
Hours: Monday-Sunday 6 am to 1 am

Tacocina hours:
Sun-Thurs 11am-10pm
Fri & Sat 11am-11pm

Images by Sailing Off the Big Apple from June and July 2018.