The Sugar Fort: Sucrose/Revere Sugar Refinery in BrooklynOctober 4th, 2005 by Bad Guy Joe
The Revere/Sucrose sugar refinery was Brooklyn's 'Other' abandoned sugar mill. Located in Red Hook, it was bulldozed out of existence by 2006. Secured up until the very end, very few 'explorers' and next to no graffiti artists ever breached it's walls. We did though. Of course we did. Because it's expected.
By the time 2005 rolled around, everyone was itching to get into this place. There were two problems though: unusually active guards at the front gate who kept watch on the place nearly 24/7/365, and dogs. Actual dogs. You could see a pack of these dogs from the street. They would often come out barking at the very few cars that passed on this desolate street.
Numerous attempts over the years were made at getting in. Notorious graffiti artist and Brooklyn Original, Rebel SC cut a lock off a fence late at night one holiday weekend when the guards were not around. He came back the next day first thing in the morning to get daytime shots and the lock was replaced.
ACF, one of the most under-rated explorers of his time (hard to find a trace of him online today), was the first to make his way in here. Soon thereafter, any NYC Explorer worth his or her salt went. I probably went in the next weekend.
Circumstances had mysterious changed. There were no more security guards. There were significantly less dogs. Of the 3 or 4 that were left, they seemed scared of humans and ran away when we saw them. This was a relief of course, though still a little strange. Feral Dogs? NYC has loads of feral cats, but dogs, not so much.
We didn't know at the time why things had changed, and we didn't give a damn. We had finally gotten in, and concentrated on picking the place apart (photographically speaking).
The former Revere Sugar Refinery was used for sugar processing from c. 1910 until the mid 1990s, first by American Molasses Co. and then by Revere Sugar. Raw sugar was received by ship and unloaded into two bins on the west side of pier A. From there it went by conveyor to the large steel storage bin with the coned shaped top, where it was held for refining. One of the warehouses on the bulkhead, a five-story stone and brick structure built c. 1890 as part of the larger Erie Basin complex, is reported to be one of the last vernacular industrial warehouse buildings to be remaining in this area of Brooklyn.
(source: Municipal Art Society of NY)
The exact shutdown date of this facility is perhaps unknown. According to The Brooklyn Eagle, it was shut down in the 1980s:
Revere went bankrupt in 1985 and the plant was wrecked by fire some years later. Clearly, no one has come back for cleanup duty in the cathedral built by a sugar king from the Philippines. Now, a real-estate developer from Brooklyn, Joe Sitt, has begun tearing it down.
When access was established, we went in early and often. As is often the case, our first few trips were made under the cover of darkness. It's far better to scout it out after dark and make sure there aren't squatters, security cameras, or other obstacles. It wasn't long before we were going in during daylight hours, and spending hours at a time inside. On one such occasion myself, Miru Kim, and the infamous F5 wandered the grounds. One of the photos of Miru became the title image for the 2007 long form NYC Exploring essay written by the talented Ben Gillerd. F5's mad tag bombing throwys ended up being some of the only graffiti to ever decorate this facility. Seeing this tagger frenetically bounce from wall to wall, scrawling ridiculous tags and catchphrases was a complete juxtaposition to Miru's careful composed, slower paced, all nude photo session. Nudity, tagging, exploring - here was freedom. No restrictions allowed.
And that's why people explore. it's a willingness to embrace a land that time and society have forsaken, and an ability to turn it into your own personal creative space.
As with all things NYC though, it would not last. Within months the lot was bulldozed. The lone warehouse at the end lived on for a few more months, as part of a plan for a massive mall, though nothing came of this idea, and it too was also wiped away.
As of this writing, in 2013, the lot remains empty.
(originally posted, October, 2005 - edited with historic text & larger photos, March 2013)
Whatever happened to the Dogs:
The dogs of the sugar refinery were not guard dogs at all. They were indeed feral dogs - generally afraid of humans and perhaps the last of their kind running wild within NYC. Fortunately, all were rounded up and either relocated or (if young enough) adopted and socialized.