Van Morrison sang those words nearly 50 years ago and it remains his highest charting single ever. But I am talking about Domino Sugar, the company started in 1799 by British merchant, William Havemeyer. In 1859, William and brother, Frederick, set up shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn right on the East River. The building is landmarked today, although Domino moved out years ago and the buildings there were sold to developers, who promised that if they were able to develop the site for condos that they would build a public park for the residents. And so they did.
Recently I brought my bike into Greenpoint and Williamsburg to stroll around my old haunts. Even though I moved 35 years ago, I still consider myself a Greenpointer, even though it is changing rapidly. As many of you know, my dad still lives there in the house he was born in 90 years ago. My goal was to bike the waterfront from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Newton Creek. Greenpoint, if you didn’t know, is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water as the Creek wraps around into the Maspeth Kill (a Dutch word for waterway).
I rode past the newly rebuilt soccer field at McCarren Park and the McCarren Park Pool on Bayard Street. The Park has enjoyed a renaissance with million-dollar condos surrounding it and a new hotel, the McCarren Park Hotel. There is a Russian church on the northwest corner of the park that was featured in an episode of Seinfeld once. I rode past all that to Kent Avenue and headed toward the Bridge. What was once a two-way street is now one-way and a shared space for bikers. I got down to the old Domino Plant and made a right to the appropriately-named River Street and there before me was the spanking new park. And what a park it is. With spectacular views up and down the East River, you can see the Statue of Liberty right through the three East River Bridges. Looking down river, underneath the Willie B, you can see the Brooklyn Navy Yard, now home to entrepreneurial companies. It is also home to Wallabout Bay, where more than 10,000 American prisoners died on British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. In fact, more people died there than anywhere in the War. The remains of the prisoners washed up on shore for over a century after, and most of the remains are interred at Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene Park.
The new condos are interesting because the building looks like a donut with a hole in the middle. The Park incorporates several of Domino Sugar’s old manufacturing pieces. Although Domino is long gone, the original building still exists and there is a street named after Havemeyer bordering the north and south sides of Williamsburg. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of taking a ferry ride on the Mississippi River and about a mile or so up river from New Orleans was another Domino factory, almost its replica!
I continued the ride back along Kent Avenue, past the many new condos being built along the riverfront toward Greenpoint. Just past Milton Street is a series of factories that have been converted into storefronts and down one alley, where as a youth I may have had a beer or two, was a sign for the Brooklyn Barge, a really cool spot out on the East River to have a beer in the late afternoon sun. Riding along Kent and looking up the streets of Greenpoint, I could see why it was named as such, as the massive trees lining each street sloping up from the river provided a leafy respite for its residents. I finally reached Ash Street, where I was met by a huge condo unit, just where the Newton Creek cuts into the Point. I wondered, who lives in all these new units? There is a tremendous condo on India Street, right at the base of the new NYC Ferry pier. It’s amazing and even with the L train shutting down, there is no shortage of condos going up.
I rode back to Box Street. This end of Greenpoint has streets that go in alphabetical order. They must have gotten tired or ran out of letters at some point because it stops somewhere in the middle. Back to Box Street, there is now a hotel there called The Box House Hotel, an upscale place that overlooks the city. You can see it best from the Pulaski Bridge heading into LIC.
I rode underneath the bridge on Box past the Spectrum plant toward the Sanitation Plant. I am sure you have seen this space-age plant as it looks like flying saucers have descended just in front of the new Kosciuszko Bridge. At the foot of the plant however, is a sign that leads to a walkway that guides you around the Newton Creek. In 2000, the city built a park here and it brings you close to the Creek. It is beautiful but desolate, and whose idea was it to put it behind the sanitation plant? Traveling back, I rode along Greenpoint Avenue to North Henry Street and made a right. Did I tell you this is where all the TV studios are? The Good Wife, Blue Bloods and many more. They all work here now in the old Mobil factories converted into studios. They even have their own hotel, the Henry Norman Hotel, where the stars stay. Who knew? If you continue up North Henry, you will hit Monsignor McGolrick Park, where many scenes for Madam Secretary are filmed. It’s got a great statue dedicated to the building of the Monitor, the Civil War submarine that helped the North defeat the South. It was built in Greenpoint.
So, there you have it, a nice bike ride in and around Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Oh Domino, roll me over, don’t you know, Domino!!! One final note, Van Morisson wrote that song in tribute to Fats Domino! Now you know.