Monday, March 04, 2013

"At the Corner of 3rd and 3rd": A Documentary On The Coignet Building By Max Kutner

Historic Etching of Conglon building
The Coignet building in all its glory. An etching from 1873.
Coignet Stone Company Building
Historic photo of the Coignet Stone Company Building

In many ways, the decrepit Coignet building at the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street exemplifies the industrial history of the Gowanus area. The building was designed by William Fields & Son and built in 1872-73 on a five-acre site. It housed the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company and was meant to showcase the durability and the versatility of the structural prefabricated and iron- reinforced concrete developed by industrialist Fran├žois Coignet in Lyon, France in 1846.

The Coignet Stone Company factory closed in 1882 and the building next housed the offices of Edwin Clark Litchfield’s Brooklyn Improvement Company. In more recent years, it was used by the Pippin Radiator Company.Though the Coignet building was landmarked in 2006 by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, it has been allowed to crumble.

To chronicle its history and changing fortune, writer and filmmaker Max Kutner has made a wonderful documentary entitled At the Corner of 3rd and 3rd on "the past, present and future" of the Coignet Stone Company Building.  Kutner has just released a trailer, which you can see above
(And yes, that's me in some of the clips. Kutner also interviewed good friends Joseph Alexiou and Nathan Kensinger.)

Directed/Filmed/Edited by Max Kutner
(2013, 20 minutes)
At the Corner of 3rd and 3rd, a new documentary by Max Kutner, explores the evolving character of Gowanus, Brooklyn and the mysterious New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building that captivates all who pass it. Constructed in 1873, the building at 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street is a historic landmark, but has been mostly abandoned since the 1960s. The Coignet Building got back in the news when Whole Foods broke ground on its first Brooklyn market just a few feet away from the landmark. Through archival materials and interviews with historians, activists, artists, photographers, and local residents, the 20-minute film presents the first comprehensive account of the past, present, and future of the Coignet Building and how a community looks to the future while fighting to preserve the past.
View the trailer for the film at
More information is available at


Anonymous said...

Wrap Around Whole Foods? That looks awful! What were they thinking? I'm guessing they just don't care as long as they get every inch they can squeeze in. So sad....

Sean said...

I respect everyone's attachment to this great building of times past. I think it is very important to keep icons such as this in a neighborhood to help maintain its historical identity. Unfortunately there is the reality that this building has been largely vacant and left to die for decades and it is no longer just that simple to restore it and be done: it would never pay off - hence why we are getting the Whole Foods development. With this in mind:

Why should a decrepit building with a mere +/- 1,000 s.f. footprint hold an entire 2-acre+ site hostage? There is zero financial incentive for anyone to be involved with this crumbling building if they can't get the most out of the site as possible; and I would argue that a "wrap-around" option is perhaps the only way to have saved this building. Furthermore, architecturally-speaking the sides of the Coignet building adjacent to the new construction do not hold nearly the monumentality of the street-facing sides to justify it sitting in grand space (such as, say, Manhattan's City Hall or Brooklyn's Borough Hall).

Don't get me wrong, as I too am very hopeful for a bright future for this historic artifact. Additionally, I echo the concerns previously raised about not yet seeing evidence that the Coignet building is seeing any improvement despite the apparent pace of the Whole Foods construction (although here too I am sure the developer desires, perhaps reasonably so, to have certain tenant income prior to investment in a restoration that has a much longer, and certainly not-guaranteed payoff). But alas I believe a proper balance between preservation and present- and future-minded development has been struck, presuming the developer's promises are kept in the end.

There may be another light to shine on this development: this Whole Foods may just be the Coignet Building's last hope.

Jim said...

My sentiments exactly, Sean.