From Innovation to Restoration: The Remarkable History of Gowanus’ Coignet Building

Etching of the Coignet Stone Company Building shortly after it was constructed. Image via the Victorian Artificial Stone and Plaster Company

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We’ve put together a near-exhaustive timeline of Gowanus’ famous Coignet Stone Building — the earliest known concrete building in New York City. Why is it such a big deal? This building is a remarkable facet of borough history. And it looks amazing after undergoing a $1.3 million restoration.

Here are the details of this structure’s storied past:

1869: Engineer Quincy Adams Gilmore, a Brooklyn Heights doctor named John C. Goodridge, Jr. and two other men founded the Coignet Agglomerate Company of the United States.

1872: Gilmore et al began construction on their all-concrete showroom and office — designed by William Field and Son — and they renamed the business to the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company.

1873: The company filed for bankruptcy.

1876: The company sold off its patents.

1877: Goodridge reorganized the company and changed the name again — to the New York Stone Contracting Company.

1880s: Most of the company’s business was by this time upstate structural work rather than decorative elements in the city.

1882: Coignet closed for good and the building was taken over by the Brooklyn Improvement Company.

Coignet Building

1939 tax photo, Municipal Archives, via Landmarks Preservation Commission

1957: The Brooklyn Improvement Company put the Coignet Building up for sale.

1960s: A series of small businesses came and went. Around this time someone decided it was a good idea to cover the facade with a brick veneer. The building was eventually abandoned.

1988: The city filed a lis pendens against the estate of a deceased owner of the site.

2005: Whole Foods bought the land surrounding the Coignet Building for $4.9452 million and promised to restore the building’s facade at an estimated cost of $1.3 million.

2006: The Coignet Building was designated as a landmark [PDF].

Coignet Building Restoration Gowanus

The Coignet Building in 2012. Photo by Brownstoner

January 2012: The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the reduction of the building’s lot — from 125 feet by 55 feet to 55 feet by 40 feet — to allow more room for the planned Whole Foods.

February 2012: The Historic Districts Council pushed back against the proposed lot reduction for the site.

January 2013: The Coignet Building went up for sale for $3 million.

May 2013: Whole Foods decided not to buy the Coignet Building, but finishes work on the structure’s roof.

August 2013: Filmmaker Max Kutner released a documentary about the Coignet Building titled At the Corner of Third and Third.

Coignet Building Restoration Gowanus

The Coignet Building in 2013. Photo by Cate Corcoran

December 2013: The Whole Foods opened with much fanfare, but the Coignet Building looked worse than ever.

January 2014: The city approved Whole Foods’ restoration permits for returning the Coignet Building to its former glory.

February 2014: A look inside the building revealed significant damage.

March 2014: Work on the building finally started, and construction scaffolding went up.

March 2014: The Landmarks Preservation Commission fined Whole Foods for failing to maintain the building.

Coignet Building Restoration Gowanus

Rendering of the Coignet Building. Photo by Cate Corcoran

April 2015: With the restoration well underway, Brownstoner got a look at the rendering.

April 2015: The construction netting came down, revealing the Coignet Building’s facade for the first time in decades (it’d been covered with fake brick).

Coignet Building Restoration Gowanus

The building in November 2015. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

November 2015: The building gleamed white with new stucco cement and was put back on the market for $5 million — as a retail space.

March 2016: With the construction work nearly complete, the Landmarks Preservation Commission awarded the building a Lucy G. Preservation Moses Award for “excellence in restoration.”

April 2016: The scaffolding came down and the Coignet Building’s full restoration was revealed for the first time.

Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Related Stories
The Coignet Building – What’s the Big Deal?
Coignet Building in Bad Shape as Whole Foods Opens
Gowanus’ Mysterious Landmark, the Coignet Building, Turns a Whiter Shade of Pale

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