When Pink Pigeons Soared in the Sky


FEBRUARY 10, 2008

AT the Rosebank Deli on Tompkins Avenue, in an unhurried Staten Island neighborhood near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the colors on the awning are the red, white and green of the Italian flag, and on the window, there is the green of a poster advertising homemade meatballs. On Tuesday afternoon, four gray-haired men sat as they often do at a wooden table drinking their coffee out of foam cups.

Color is often the subject of conversation in this neighborhood. And so it was on this day, as the men discussed the closing five days earlier of a 101-year-old pigment plant, a concrete complex of buildings painted a drab shade of yellow on a five-acre site a few blocks from the deli.

“I used to see pink pigeons,” one of the men said, his eyes widening as he spoke. Residents of the neighborhood often speak with awe at having seen red-tinted birds, cats or other animals that had apparently frolicked near the powdery pigment produced at the plant.

“It’s a shame,” said another man. “A lot of people lost good jobs.”

The men began listing names. There was Fran, who worked in the plant for 30 years and lived a few houses away from the deli. There was Billy, who worked at the plant since high school and whose father and uncle had also once worked there.


Now closed, the 1907 pigment plant near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.


Billy Cloke, the Billy the men had spoken of, soon appeared outside on the sidewalk nearby.

“It stinks,” Mr. Cloke, 38, said of the closing as he adjusted his brown baseball hat. “But I knew it was coming.”

Mr. Cloke, a former foreman, said he had seen the writing on the wall last year when the plant suddenly stopped producing “7285,” a shade of yellow he said the company had been producing at a rate of up to 10,000 pounds a day.

The plant, in which the Sun Chemical Corporation made organic pigments used in products from lipstick to automotive paint, closed in part because it could not compete with lower-cost pigment plants in China and India, according to Edwin Faulkner, a Sun spokesman. Nearly 70 employees had their last day on Jan. 31, said Mr. Faulkner, and about a dozen more, who are helping with the cleanup, will be let go in the coming months.

A German firm, G. Siegle Company, built the plant in 1907. During World War I, the United States government seized the “enemy-owned” property and sold it to American investors. The original name remains prominently carved near the top of a citadel-like structure on the site.

The complex, in the Rosebank neighborhood, is flanked by red-brick town houses and a Catholic school. Unlike the people at the deli, some of the neighbors were happy when the company announced last summer that the plant would be closing, which would mean the end of the odors it sometimes emitted. Demolition is scheduled to begin in April.

As for Mr. Cloke, he is considering a future job as an X-ray technician, or maybe something in refrigeration. “You’ve got to be optimistic,” he said. “I see the world as wide open.”