New York Daily Photo Analytics

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Secret Discovery

On my first trip alone to New York City with a friend, I recall some mutual back patting of how in traveling without a group, we were able to avoid the touristy and eat in a place which was our own secret discovery. The place? Nathan's at Times Square. Rather hilarious looking back on it, but being older has not entirely eliminated naivete.
I "discovered" this unique building standing alone like a haunted mansion on a hill at 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn. Silly in retrospect - how could anyone miss this anomaly on a major thoroughfare? No one has. I have read no less than two dozen articles on this building which not only stands as a beacon to passersby but also is the center of controversy. 
The surrounding property (but not the building itself) was purchased in 2005 by Whole Foods Market from Richard Kowalski who still owns the 2 1/2 story Italianate building at 360 Third Avenue Street near the Gowanus Canal. The Whole Foods project has been stalled for a number of reasons, including discovery that the property, a floodplain, had toxic ...
I found a tremendous amount of misinformation about this property as bits and pieces of facts were cobbled together over the recent years. I believe its history has at last been clarified.
The building, built by Edwin Clark Litchfield in 1872-3, became important as the part of the history of concrete in America. The New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building was landmarked in 2006. 
François Coignet was a pioneer in development of structural and reinforced concrete. In the late 1860s, A group of Americans trained in Coignet’s techniques in France brought his patents to Brooklyn. From the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission website in 2006:

The building originally was part of the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company, a five-acre factory complex near the Gowanus Canal that manufactured Coignet -- or artificial --stone, a type of concrete invented by Francois Coignet in Paris in the 1850s. The factory supplied the arches and clerestory windows in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, the ornamental details for the Cleft Ridge Span in Prospect Park and the building materials for the first stages of construction at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.
Made entirely of concrete, the 25-by-40 foot rectangular structure was built to showcase the durability and versatility of Coignet’s inventive product, also known as “Béton (French for concrete) Coignet.” The company was reorganized and renamed the New York Stone Contracting Company in the mid-1870s, and continued to manufacture Coignet stone until 1882. Shortly after, the building housed the office of the Brooklyn Improvement Company, which was instrumental in Brooklyn’s residential and commercial development during the 19th and 20th centuries.

I hope you get a chance to make a secret discovery of this property yourself, if you get a chance to pass by :)

Note: The building has often been referred to as the Pippin building - it once housed offices for Pippin, a radiator distribution company.


naomid said...

Seems like 3rd ave is very actively being developed. I see lots of bars and restaurants coming to this area, and yeah Whole Foods. It still is an ugly area with adult industries territories towards 20th st and above and concrete factories! Hope this building makes it through

Diminuendo said...

Hi Brian,

I recently stumbled upon your site and just wanted to say I really enjoy it. Not only is the photography great, but you include great backstory. Not all photography blogs do that. Keep it up!

Michelle Johnson said...

Great article. I too hope that building makes it but development usually means a facelift. Hope all is well. Have a great day.

Trevor David Betts said...


I really appreciate being able to view other photographers photo blogs from around the World.

Keep up the excellent work, good luck with all your photography and blogging.

Trevor David Betts

Mary (Clove Spice) said...

Dear Brian--

As many times as I have passed that building, I had no idea as to its story. You should give a class in basic research! It is really needed these days.


Mary said...

That building really has held up well. Still being in such good condition after all the slings and arrows, etc.

I can't wait to dazzle my civil engineer friend with this info, as we pass it every time we come from Prospect Park.

ChickenUnderwear said...

The "upper" end of Third Street is Litchfield's home (or Villa as it is now called.)

Thirds Street is much wider then any of the nearby streets.

It was Mr Litchfields's commute. He laid out the streets in Park Slope and gave himself a nice commute.

this too will pass said...

a good photo of a lovely building

Brian Dubé said...

Thanks all.
ChickenUnderwear - thanks for the additional info.

Anonymous said...

Oh cool!
So glad you documented this one, I always had my eye on it too. and thanks for the history lesson!

Kelly-Vision said...

Your story about Nathan's made me laugh. On my first visit to NYC, we ate at a "genuine Italian restaurant in Times Square".... S'barro.

I've laughed quite a few times since too.