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THE CORNERSTONE of the future, much-anticipated Whole Foods in Gowanus will be this odd remnant of New York City’s industrial past.

The Coignet Stone Company Building, one of the nation’s first concrete structures, has always been a puzzlement, standing by itself on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street as if waiting for something to happen around it.

It stands because it was landmarked in 2006 by The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as a pioneering example of concrete construction in the United States. The 2 ½-story, Italianate-style structure, designed by William Field and Son, was built between 1872 and 1873 to house the concrete manufacturer’s main office.

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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 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.

Photo: Tom Rupolo/Urban Landscape ->

It may look like brick and limestone, but it’s made entirely of concrete. The 25-by-40 foot rectangular structure was built to showcase the durability and versatility of Coignet’s inventive product. 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.

The Coignet building is not owned by Whole Foods (which will include a 20,000 square-foot greenhouse on the roof), but it will be incorporated into the supermarket’s design and given a new roof and exterior repairs.

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Photo: Nathan Kensinger via Brownstoner

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