Coignet Stone was the first concrete structure in New York City and may well be the last abandoned building in Gowanus. Now a two story lump of crumbling red brick on 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street, its façade was once heralded by the Brooklyn Eagle as the neighborhood’s bright spot: “Located where it is, having nothing but wooden sheds and fences to contrast with it, stands out proudly and challenges the attention of all wayfarers.”
Now the black sheep of the block, Coignet Stone’s current neighbors consist of high-rise luxury towers.
Built in 1872 by William Field and Son, Coignet Stone was constructed to showcase Beton Coignet, a French concrete popular for being cheaper than natural stone. The concrete was produced on site at a five acre factory complex which extended along the Gowanus Canal called the New York and Long Island Stone Company, one of the first firms in the United States to industrialize the production of concrete. Briefly enjoying a huge success, they produced the arches and clerestory windows in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as the base construction for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum.
Bankrupt just a decade later, the factory closed in 1882 and the building became the office of Edwin Clark Litchfield’s Brooklyn Improvement Company. Legend has it Litchfield built an underground tunnel connecting his new office with his villa six avenues up in Prospect Park. In 1957 Litchfield gave up the office, and after a brief new life as the Pippin Radiator Company, the once beloved little structure was left for dead, and has since acquired its present state of decay.