5Pointz, a Graffiti Mecca in Queens, Is Wiped Clean Overnight
Usually, it is the street artists who work under the cover of darkness, hoping to evade police detection as they scrawl graffiti on property that is not their own.
But before dawn on Tuesday, it was the owner of a building in Queens who used a crew of painters to work overnight and paint over graffiti on a warehouse in Long Island City, wiping clean a canvas that was used by thousands of artists over the years to transform an otherwise nondescript, abandoned brick building in a working-class neighborhood into 5Pointz, a mecca for street artists from around the world.
By morning, the work of some 1,500 artists had been wiped clean, the Brobdingnagian bubble letters and the colorful cartoons spray painted on the building’s brick walls all covered in a fresh coat of white paint.
“We are supposed to be the vandals, but this is the biggest rag and disrespect in the history of graffiti,” said Marie Cecile Flageul, an unofficial curator for 5Pointz.
The plan to convert the three-acre site into a $400 million development project that will include two glass towers and 1,000 new luxury apartments had provoked opposition from artists and their supporters. But after months of public debate, court hearings and political maneuvering, opponents had little left in their arsenal.
In a last-ditch effort to stop the development, they were hoping to have the building designated as a landmark. That option is now likely gone as well.
“I don’t know how you can erase 12 years of spectacular art,” said Hans Von Rittern, a guide who arrived with a busload of tourists, only to find the building’s art gone. “It’s cruel.”
The warehouse is scheduled for demolition by the end of the year.
The property has been owned by the Wolkoff family for over 40 years, and for most of that time they allowed artists to use the building’s facade as they liked.
It was the 1970s when Jerry Wolkoff bought the warehouse. At the time, people who tagged storefronts, subway cars and street signs were widely viewed more as menace than artist.
Today, graffiti is more mainstream than outlaw, used in commercials, sold at auctions and stamped on clothing.
The British street artist and presumable millionaire Bansky ended his recent monthlong residency in New York with the words “save 5Pointz.”
The Wolkoff family said they long planned to develop the site, but only in recent years has it become financially feasible.
As a concession to the artists, David Wolkoff, Jerry’s son, told the City Council in October that he would raise the number of affordable apartments to 210, from 75, and include 12,000 square feet for artists’ studios, up from 2,200 square feet.
He said he was a fan of the work of the people who turned his building into a work of art.
“The artwork is absolutely fabulous,” he said at the hearing.
Jerry Wolkoff, 77, who bought the building in 1971 and has enjoyed the work of the artists who flocked to his building for more than two decades, could not help but get emotional Tuesday morning as his crews painted over the graffiti.
“I cried this morning, I swear to you,” he said.
Still, the painting of the building – which started after midnight and finished around 7 a.m., according to witnesses — was met with anger and surprise.
“Everyone was kind of shocked,” said Jeff Carrol, 33, who went to the building Tuesday morning only to find workers applying a final coat of paint.
Mr. Carrol said he moved to Williamsburg from Seattle in September, and, while he was not a street artist himself, 5Pointz “was on the list of cool things that I should see.”
He would return occasionally to check out what was new on the building, but he knew time was running out.
Tuesday morning, he said, he was greeted by a police officer stationed at the warehouse and was told that if he caused any trouble he would be arrested.
The graffiti was painted over before it could be formally celebrated, and supporters said they would hold a vigil Tuesday night.
Graffiti has long been ephemeral but Mr. Carrol said he had hoped that 5Pointz would be granted a “stay of execution.”
“I guess I got to see it just in the nick of time,” he said.