Published in
Features

Queens Graffiti Mecca Faces Redevelopment

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.