Gowanus

A history of the Coignet Building as it re-enters the market

The little landmark surrounded by a huge Whole Foods is for sale again.

August 29, 2019 Lore Croghan
For sale, again: The Coignet Building, shown here surrounded by the Gowanus Whole Foods Market. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

One of Brooklyn’s quirkiest landmarks is for sale — again.

Hint: It’s a tiny commercial building in Gowanus surrounded by a gigantic grocery store.

It’s the Coignet Building, the oldest concrete building in New York City, now flanked by a 56,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market that’s configured in two wings.

A photo of the Coignet Building taken between 1939 and 1941. Photo via NYC Municipal Archives Online

The New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building (its full name) was built in 1873 by one of the first companies in the United States to industrialize the production of concrete.

Levanic Inc., whose president is Richard Kowalski, just put the two-story landmark at 360 Third Ave. up for sale for the third time in six years. The asking price is $6.5 million. Kowalski was not available for comment.

Here’s a December 2013 photo showing the Coignet Building (at right) before it was repaired. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s a December 2013 photo showing the Coignet Building (at right) before it was repaired. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Residential brokerage Corcoran has the listing, as Brownstoner was first to report.

Kowalski sold the land surrounding the 3,000-square-foot Coignet Building to Whole Foods in 2005, Finance Department records show. As part of the deal, the supermarket chain agreed to renovate the building’s façade — which had been covered with a red faux-brick veneer since the 1960s — plus do structural repairs and install new windows.

Brooklyn Eagle photos from December 2013 show what the landmark looked like when its façade was mostly fake brick.

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White concrete was visible on the foundation of the building and on and around its door frames and window sills. The windows were boarded up with plywood.

A 2011 agreement between the Coignet Building’s owner and Whole Foods stipulates the building can only be used for business, professional or government offices, an auto-supply store or a commercial art gallery with one caretaker’s apartment and a gift shop, city Finance Department records show.

The Coignet Building’s facade is covered with faux brick in this December 2013 photo. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
The Coignet Building’s façade is covered with faux brick in this December 2013 photo. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Whole Foods dealt with contaminated soil at the site through the state Brownfield Cleanup Program. The site is located on the banks of the notoriously polluted Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site.

A 2012 Certificate of Completion for the program, which applies to the Coignet Building as well as to the supermarket, says the cleanup level that was achieved is appropriate for commercial and industrial properties.

Levanic Inc. has owned the Coignet Building since 1992, when it bought the historic property and an adjacent lot for $975,000, Finance Department records show.

A $1.3 million fix-up

Kowalski first put the Coignet Building up for sale in January 2013, with commercial brokerage Massey Knakal Realty Services handling the listing, the Eagle reported.

The asking price was $3 million, or $180,000 in annual rent if you wanted to lease it instead.

In December 2013, Kowalski told the Eagle he had offers from several people.

Whole Foods started renovating the Coignet Building in March 2014. The property was under scaffolding and construction netting for a long time.

The Coignet Building’s facade repairs were nearly completed when this photo was taken in October 2015. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
The Coignet Building’s facade repairs were nearly completed when this photo was taken in October 2015. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The estimated cost of the fix-up was $1.3 million, city Buildings Department records indicate.

Massey Knakal listed the landmarked building a second time in 2015. The asking price was $5 million. Massey Knakal was sold to commercial brokerage Cushman & Wakefield. After that, the Coignet Building listing was handled by Cushman & Wakefield.

When the scaffolding came off the Coignet Building in 2016, its original concrete facade was revealed. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
When the scaffolding came off the Coignet Building in 2016, its original concrete facade was revealed. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

In September 2015, Kowalski told the Eagle he had “several prospects” who were interested in the property.

When Whole Foods finished the Coignet Building’s fix-up in April 2016, its concrete façade was a chalky white hue.

No longer flawless

The Coignet Building was designated as a city landmark in 2006.

The building was constructed as a showcase for “artificial stone,” a type of concrete. It which was made in a factory complex on the surrounding property where Whole Foods Market now stands.

This photo, taken on Aug. 29, shows patches of dark gray where the finish has worn off the Coignet Building. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This photo, taken on Aug. 29, shows patches of dark gray where the finish has worn off the Coignet Building. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Francois Coignet, who lived in France, devised the process of manufacturing artificial stone. Skilled workers from France traveled to Brooklyn to train the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company’s staff, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Coignet Building says.

The company made the arches and clerestory window frames for Manhattan’s famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

This Aug. 29 photo shows where the finish has worn off a set of entrance stairs at the Coignet Building. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This Aug. 29 photo shows where the finish has worn off a set of entrance stairs at the Coignet Building. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Now, three years after the Coignet Building restoration’s completion, it no longer looks flawless.

A coating applied to the façade has worn off and left dark gray patches on the building’s foundation, entrance stairs, stair rails and columns beside the entrance doors.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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  1. Did you notice in the 1938 photo how this building sat in the open space and now is crowned in by the WFM building. LPC gave WFM special permission to do this and in doing so devalued the building.

    The Coignet Building was a “demonstration” building. Built to show off that their new concert process could be used to make a building that would survive a winter or two. The Romans had industrialized concrete centuries earlier, but it could not be used for constructing buildings. The historic concert process that was developed by Coignet was (is) fundamental to the growth of modern architecture and NYC. The bland design of the WFM buildings, now scattered across this country, owe their structure to the concrete material process first demonstrated in the Coignet office building. —my haven’t we come a long way in our design!