Queens Graffiti Mecca Faces Redevelopment

Monday, March 07, 2011

It’s a sad day for New York's street artists. Developers are planning to bulldoze Five Pointz in Queens, an icon of graffiti culture worldwide, and replace it with new high rises.

Since 1993, the former warehouse space in Long Island City has served as an informal training ground and gallery for street artists from around the city. The space is regularly visited by graffiti and hip-hop fans from around the world, earning it a reputation as a street art mecca. Owner Jerry Wolkoff has allowed the artists to use the space rent-free for over a decade, but not for much longer.

Within two weeks, Wolkoff will formally submit redevelopment plans for review. The $350 million dollar project will include two residential buildings towering up to 40 stories high. The project will include shops and a supermarket, as well as a wall for graffiti artists to continue practicing their craft, and studio spaces for artists Wolkoff has formed relationships with over the years.

Jonathan Cohen, who uses the graffiti name Meres and runs Five Pointz, says he’s still in shock. “I’m still absorbing everything,” says Cohen. “We always knew that re-development was a possibility, but you kind of forget as time goes on.” Cohen says that since the story broke Monday morning, he’s received messages of support from artists from all over the world.

   Photo by Dejan Jovanovic/ Flickr

Others in the community at Five Pointz are already mounting an opposition to the project. Some artists who use the space have begun to circulate a petition seeking landmark status for the building.

“Basically, closing Five Pointz down is like closing the MoMA or the Guggenheim down,” says Jerry Rid, a veteran graffiti writer and longtime Five Pointz associate. “You just can't do it. Because this is art. There is no other place on the planet in my eyes that is something like this.”

“This is a cultural landmark, not only for New York, but for hip-hop culture worldwide,” says Steve Harrington, the author of the book "Street Art New York." “I can’t imagine that anybody needs more luxury high-rises. We need to keep our cultural institutions protected and preserved."

The artists’ cause is complicated by the fact that the building is, quite literally, falling apart. In 2009, an exterior cement staircase collapsed, injuring one woman and leading to a ruling that forced artists who worked there to vacate their studios.

“Everything is in the eyes of the beholder. Most people don’t like [graffiti art]. I happen to like it,” says Jerry Wolkoff, the developer. Wolkoff supported the artists for many years, but thinks it’s finally time to re-purpose the property. “The area desperately needs something like this development. It’s time to get the construction workers back to work.”

If approved, Wolkoff hopes his towers will be up within a year and a half.


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Comments [25]

Luis natall from Sunnyside

If the building is falling apart, how are they going to make it safe for people there? I wonder how dangerous that is.
Maybe my point of view is not very attached to what this building really means for Queens, but it won't be worth it to have more people getting hurt for the sake of preserving the art on this falling down building. This is a terrible thing anyway. What a hard decision to make. But I'm sure Mr.Wolkoff, is and has been doing his best to support artists at 5 point.

Oct. 04 2012 10:16 AM
Stan Raffes from Rgo Park, NY

This is a living museum, and at least part of it should be preserved.
This is yet another example of corporate greed/ commercial development taking precedence over the arts in NYC. So many historical, cultural landmarks have recently been destroyed and -redeveloped- ie, CBGB, Chumley's, Cedar Tavern etc- which were part of integral NYC culture, and cited in many textbooks. All gone but not forgotten

Jan. 09 2012 01:37 PM
LI Writer

Was always there checking out, putting up my own stuff on this building. I haven't been there in awhile but am sad to hear that it's set to be demolished if it hasn't already..

Dec. 04 2011 01:21 AM
BIGZEE from manhattan

keep 5 points...

Mar. 24 2011 03:58 PM
Pak-Kei from Bklyn, NY

It's not always a battle.

The best solution? The developer can keep the facade, gut the innards, and put a skyscraper on top of it. And build scaffolding for graffiti artists to spray up high.

Then market them with exorbitant prices to rich hip hop artists as the icon of that.

Mar. 22 2011 10:44 AM

How many of the luxury units built in LIC over the past four years are still empty? I live in Western Queens. We don't need more high rises!

Mar. 17 2011 09:49 PM
Joe from LIC

I think Damian921 put it best...this city is every changing and updating, that's part of what makes this the best city on earth. Those who act shocked and outraged by that notion are then by definition not true new yorkers.

I live in Long Island city and go by this building several times a day, and while it's too bad to see it go, it's not fair for people to point fingers of anger and blame at Jerry the owner, after he let people use this space for the last 20 years for free...he owns it, not them...and has made no profit off the space.

I'd be curious to see how many people writing all the protest about it, actually live in the neighborhood, because I actually do...and I've been living here for a long time with no grocery store or development. I'm kind of excited at the thought of LIC becoming more of a developed neighborhood!

Mar. 15 2011 12:11 PM

My office window looks out at 5 Pnts building and Manhattan skyline. Jerry's building is much more fun to look at. Seen plenty of residential development in the area with no common services like grocery stores following. LIC is becoming the next Williamsburg with the 7 train driving demand instead of the L. This building is unique and needs to remain a destination. Is PS1 the next to go?

Mar. 11 2011 07:51 PM
znm200 from brooklyn

At the very least, maybe the facade can be preserved/saved and re-installed. The guts of the building seem relatively irrelevant to the artists.

Mar. 11 2011 03:10 PM

Its time for a new canvas.

Mar. 10 2011 03:23 PM

@Barry Shapiro

Well said! True New Yorkers are a rare breed these days.

Mar. 10 2011 01:56 AM
VDL from Astoria, NY

This landlord is a joke. There is no way he is doing any of this work to give jobs to construction workers or help artists. Five Pointz should be turned into a historical landmark - and anyone who cares about it should fill out and mail in that form linked by @Mike from Woodside.

If you care about New York City, whether you grew up here or not, then stick to your word and act. I know I will.

Linked originally by @Mike from Woodside:

Mar. 09 2011 10:53 PM
Gregory from NYC

LIC does not need more yuppie highrises. Fivepointz is a one of a kind, and a treasure of inspired art. Sometimes I'll walk by, check it out, then go to PS1 and I'll be amazed at how lifeless the PS1 art feels by comparison.

There are other development sites in and around LIC. This place should be landmarked. In 20 years (or sooner) we will lament its destruction, and it will be too late. Speak out, don't let it happen.

Mar. 09 2011 07:59 PM

It was inevitable. Wolcoff has been generous in supporting the arts as much as he could and defended the building (from what I know) from being condemned for a long time now. The woman who got hurt is unfortunate, but it's miraculous many more haven't. The way the area has been changing, only a blind deaf and dumb person could not see that change was long overdue. When it comes to Meres, Jonathan Cohen, he's had more than enough time to formalize his efforts both there and elsewhere. I check in on 5pointz website now and then, having my own endeavor for graffiti (, and only recently has he added the "in addition" statement to his mission statement. I wish them luck for sure, but in my opinion less should have been done to keep graffiti the way it is, and more towards bringing it into the 21st century. The facade will be missed, but hopefully it will serve the future of graffiti to put this kind of place in the history books already.

Mar. 09 2011 12:59 PM
Trish Szymanski from Jersey City

Mr. Wolkoff, I believe that you appreciate this art and Five Pointz' significance in the art world and the hip hop community. And I know you have already foregone income by delaying your "repurposing" of this facility. Please, take one more step: Deconstruct this building's face, piece by piece, with as much input from artists as possible, and work with them to install it elsewhere - PS1?. Not everyone will be happy, but your real support for the art itself will go a long way.

Mar. 09 2011 10:13 AM
Mike from Woodside, Queens

download the following form and mail it to the address listed there to nominate 5 Pointz as a landmark building in NYC.

the address for 5 Pointz is 45-46 Davis Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Mar. 08 2011 04:02 PM
Mike from Woodside, Queens

if you don't want to see this building demolished please send an impassioned email to City Councilman Jimmy van Bramer.... he is a nice guy and is an important person to have help save this building:

Mar. 08 2011 03:06 PM
Brett from los angeles

quoting alekz: "i'm not saying he doesn't care about art or artists"- I'm saying he doesn't care. When my studio was there I had broken windows that never got fixed and faulty fire sprinklers flooded my studio, destroying work and tools. Wolkoff didn't lift a finger to do anything about it- didn't even give me a break on rent to help me recoup my losses from the flood. And really, saying Nicole Gagne was "injured" makes it sound like she stubbed her toe- She was crushed by over a ton of concrete after falling 40 feet. She was very, very nearly killed, and it's only by her own will to survive that she wasn't. If that accident had happened during one of the open studio events, you can bet that several people WOULD have died. Wolkoff's negligence jeopardized the lives of many many people. Nice fluff piece, WNYC.

Mar. 08 2011 01:57 PM
Evan from Sunnyside

Marlon from WNYC, you should really update that big photo. It shows the staircase that collapsed after years of landlord neglect, very nearly killing a dear friend of mine and giving her permanent injuries. It's worth going into greater detail on why the artists were forced to vacate: the collapsing stairs were just the culmination of years of building violations that weren't remedied. And now this guy wants a green light to build a luxury skyscraper? Five Pointz should be landmarked and acquired by an arts foundation that could turn it into a street art museum with working art studios and an exhibition space. That would be a lot better for Long Island City.

Mar. 08 2011 01:50 PM
alekz from ex-Queens

hate how it makes the owner sound like a hero championing artists. i'm not saying he doesn't care about art or artists, but his building is in a serious state of neglect that he's long ignored. "injuring one woman" really downplays the way the building is crumbling. and he didn't offer the building for artist studios for free.

Mar. 08 2011 12:10 PM
Kira from Brooklyn

I've been craning my neck to check out this amazing public artwork from the 7 train for years! It is a symbol of the colorful vitality that makes me excited to live in the area, and never fails to brighten my day. The loss of 5 Pointz really is a blow to the cultural environment of Queens.

Mar. 08 2011 11:36 AM
oscar from ny

awww :[ ..

Mar. 08 2011 10:06 AM
Tai from california

It should get landmark status, that place looks dope.

Mar. 08 2011 12:51 AM
Barry Shapiro from NYC

Just what Long Island City needs, more towers for WASP transplants from Michigan. Gee, I wonder if there will be a big neon Chase bank at the bottom of the towers so that the residents can withdraw from their trust funds before jumping into a taxi. I never thought I would long for the crime-ridden, drug-ridden, roach infested NYC of the 1980's, but I do every day.

Mar. 07 2011 11:35 PM
Judith Sloan from queens

Oh No, that's really too bad because it is an icon of Queens. Everyone goes by there - it has museum status in the eyes of people who live here.

Mar. 07 2011 08:01 PM

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