The Coignet Stone Company Building
New York's oldest concrete structure is being preserved thanks to the gentrification of Whole Foods.
Tucked away near the toxically polluted Gowanus Canal, this long-abandoned city landmark is the oldest known concrete structure in New York, but even if it is empty and unloved, it continues to stand strong.
The New York & Long Island Coignet Stone Company, one of America’s earliest producers of industrialized concrete, constructed the two-story brick and concrete house in 1872 as a display model for an exciting new building technology it had imported from France, called Beton Coignet. The construction method involved using poured concrete, reinforced with iron bars, a method that was not only innovative at the time, but relatively cheaper than other construction methods. The company’s massive production factory once surrounded the house, although their operation has been replaced by a Whole Foods.
The architectural mish-mash of the Coignet Stone Company Building’s urns, ionic columns, and porticos were meant to show the versatility of the concrete, which was as sturdy as real stone but easier to manipulate. It was also, obviously, cheaper.
In the 1870s several recognized city landmarks incorporated elements of Beton Coignet, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Williamsburg Savings Bank, and the recently-renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but even these could not save the company. After the factory went bankrupt in the 1880s, the building was used by local landlord Edwin Litchfield as an office for his real estate firm, the Brooklyn Improvement Company.
Today, the building still sits empty, but the Whole Foods is actually working to renovate and restore the landmark. Hopefully their efforts will be able to save this bit of New York’s concrete history.
Know Before You Go
Take the F subway line to Carroll Street and walk eastwards on Third Street until you get to the Whole Foods.
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