Bah Humbug! Crumbling Coignet Building Does Not Share In Whole Foods’ Good Cheer

Has Whole Foods construction damaged the Coignet Building? (Brownstoner)

Has Whole Foods construction damaged the Coignet Building? (Brownstoner)

Today the Whole Foods in Gowanus opened with considerable fanfare—vinyl records! Brooklyn-made treats! A rooftop beer garden!—attracting a stampede of hungry Brooklynites and apparently, a few Park Slope Co-op defectors (hey, in our experience, Whole Foods’ management of lines is very impressive). But the decrepit Coignet Building, the 140-year-old concrete mansion located just five feet from the gleaming new grocery store, is not sharing in all the bonhomie.

Though Whole Foods seemed like it might be a boon for the landmarked building—when the building’s owner, Richard Kowalski sold Whole Foods the lot in 2005 he extracted a promise from the bougie retailer to restore its exterior. But while Whole Foods has provided a new roof, the structure is otherwise worse for the wear, according to Brownstoner, having apparently sustained serious injuries during the grocery store’s construction.

The building, back in the days when it stood alone.

The building, back in the days when it stood alone.

Last week, Brooklyn Paper reported that a new crack has appeared in the building’s foundation, which would seem to be a consequence of the heavy construction and excavation work happening just a few feet away, however, Whole Foods denied responsibility for the crack.

“Nothing that occurred in relations to building our building for the store affected what’s happening to that building,” Whole Foods told Brooklyn Paper. “I don’t think anything caused that crack. The building is a bit weathered.”

But local preservationists and filmmaker Max Kutner, the director of “At the Corner of 3rd and 3rd,” a documentary about the building, which was built in 1873 as an advertisement for the Beton Coignet, the patented concrete that was manufactured in the factory complex behind it, said that locals told him that the construction frequently caused the building to shake.

And Brownstoner, which stopped by the building today in the midst of all the happy hullabaloo, found several of the windows broken and open, as well two cracks in the foundation–the one spotted by Brownstoner at the base of the front of the building on the 3rd Street side, and another one on the Third Avenue side.

The forlorn-looking building, vacant since the 1960s, has long been one of the neighborhood’s most striking structures, a graceful mansion in the middle of an industrial zone. Last January, it seemed that it might finally be put to use again when Mr. Kowalski listed it for long-term lease or sale with Massey Knakal. Zoned light industrial, the building has 2,000 square feet of space above ground and a 1,000-square-foot cellar, but so far there have been no takers. Not so surprising; rather than a list price, there was a request for proposals—the leasee or new owner would be responsible for the gut renovation that the building needs—and at the time owner wanted more than $3 million to sell or $7,500 a month to lease.

Empty or not, now that Brooklynites have a huge emporium to buy their most important dietary staples—kale and craft beer—perhaps Whole Foods can finally turn its construction crews to the charmingly strange structure by its side.

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