by Kevin Walsh

In New York City, the smallest possible number you can get when adding the numbers of both cross streets that have numbers is two, in the East Village, where First Avenue meets East 1st Street (a corner that Kosmo Kramer called “the center of the universe” on Seinfeld). The highest number is, as you’d expect, way out there in Laurelton, Queens, where 149th Avenue meets 262nd Street, making 411. In New York, single-digitted streets usually don’t intersect with other single-digitted streets; it only happens twice in Manhattan, and only six times in Brooklyn, in Gowanus and Park Slope, where Avenues and Streets numbered 3 through 8 meet each other. (Before streets in Williamsburg obtained their present names, they were numbered, so for example, North 4th met 4th Street, which is now Bedford Avenue.)

At the corner of Third and Third in Gowanus is a magnificent gem of a building, made of coignet stone, with ornate trimmings and ionic columns by the door, seemingly plopped in the middle of empty lots, auto repair shops and the Gowanus Canal, which is less nasty than it used to be, though its tributary, the 4th Street Basin, is still filled with garbage and algae. It turns out that the building and Gowanus Canal itself are bound by history, since this is the former headquarters of the Brooklyn Improvement Company, founded by one Edwin Litchfield for the express purpose of dredging the Gowanus Creek, then a fresh stream, and making it vessel-worthy. We’re not sure whether to thank him or not, since for the latter half of the 20th century when its flush pumps were in disrepair, the canal became so foul that it turned the color of Pepto-Bismol and became known as Lavender Lake. Litchfield owned much of the property between here and Prospect Park and built, with the aid of architect Alexander Davis an Italian-style villa at what would become Prospect Park West and 5th Street in 1854. In 1860, Litchfield had to give up his property so that Prospect Park could be built, but he continued to reside in his magnificent villa until his wife’s death in 1881. The villa still bears his name, but when you pass the Gowanus Canal and pass the mini-masterpiece at 3rd and 3rd, you can thank him for those, too.

As for the Brooklyn Improvement HQ, its coignet stone finish was covered with brickwork at some point in the 20th Century, and the building was occupied by various concerns and gradually sank into utter decrepitude, surrounded by empty lots and the noxious and noisome canal. Relief came when Whole Foods purchased the parcel next to it in 2005, and promised to restore the Coignet Building. Whole Foods dragged its corporate feet, but work got underway in 2013 and was completed in 2015. The building had been landmarked in 2006. I do not know who will occupy the building, but it’s no longer an eyesore.

The reliable Brownstoner has the full story.

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David Meltzer January 5, 2023 - 12:07 am

I was thinking that a restaurant would be a nice addition. Maybe an event space.

Maribel January 5, 2023 - 11:29 pm

It’s still an eyesore! A cleaner, renovated one but same difference: it’s been complete EIGHT YEARS and g.d. building (whose historical significance was always overstated but it was an easy giveaway to sentimental preservationists; not as offensive as the Domino sign (read about its corporate history dating from the 1880s on) but still…) is STILL EMPTY.

do you know who’s occupied it since renovation was complete? NOBODY.

Is there any possible rationale or excuse for this?

I blame the fraud “liberal” politicians of Gownus / Park Slope and the city generally than the sentimental preservationists but the result is the same: NOTHING. An empty shell that contributes nothing to the neighborhood or the city with zero evident plans to change that.

Larry January 5, 2023 - 1:08 am

I believe Kramer called it “The Nexus of the Universe”

Sunnysider January 5, 2023 - 9:20 am

The Gowanus was clearly destined to be foul smelling and objectionable in some ways. Take away the first 3 letters and what have you got?

Ty January 5, 2023 - 10:02 am

Nexus of the universe Jerry. Complete with the Nexus Lounge on the northeast corner

Tom January 5, 2023 - 12:36 pm

“In New York, single-digitted streets usually don’t intersect with other single-digitted streets; it only happens twice in Manhattan…”

Racking my brain on that one.

Candace Ray January 5, 2023 - 11:00 pm

Let’s smack a Whole Foods there no one would notice ‍♀️

Rich January 6, 2023 - 6:00 pm

This building is for sale currently (Winter 2023). Whole Foods is unloading it. Would be a great steakhouse or even a very cool multi-floored coffee & wine bar with old school lighting to give the place some ambience. There is enough foot traffic – more and more families and couples waking around that area all the time now – and your might get stragglers from the market too.


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