If you live in Queens, chances are you’ve taken the 7 train home at some point, and as that silver snake shoots from its underground fortress to the Court Square station, you’ve no doubt noticed that marvelous cavalcade of yellow and red warehouse buildings that are adorned with graffiti art. And, like clockwork, your fingers likely slipped in to your coat pocket, removed that smartphone, and angled for a shot.
5 Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burning tends to have that effect on people. An outdoor aerosol exhibition space, 5 Pointz is known worldwide as the “graffiti Mecca.” It’s a place where any taggers can showcase their talents. People from as far away as Japan and Switzerland have visited this collection of magnificent street art, transitioning their mental murals into actual ones.
And it’s 100 percent free to everyone.
But all that may soon come to an end. David and Jerry Wolkoff, owners of the buildings, plan to tear them down and replace them with two residential towers offering retail space and many amenities. And even though a community board voted against the Wolkoffs’ permit application, the City Planning Commission recently approved it. (The Board’s vote was advisory and can’t stop the Wolkoffs from destroying the buildings.)
A full City Council vote to permit taller versions of the towers is scheduled for this month, but local artists and organizers aren’t giving up yet. A movement to get 5 Pointz recognized as a city landmark continues — one that needs as much help as possible.
Some will argue that the Wolkoffs own the property; they have every right to tear them down. While that may be true, 5 Pointz is more than just buildings. You don’t just get spray-painted images of Biggie and cool anime characters. There’s music videos from independent artists being filmed here. You can catch breakdancing battles. Legendary DJs, such as Marley Marl and Kool Herc (the latter of whom is credited with creating hip-hop), occasionally spin records here. Independent artists like Brooklyn’s Mic Handz stage free concerts. Even movies, such as the summer’s “Now You See Me,” have filmed here.
Here you get a legacy, another artery in the body of hip-hop, disseminated throughout the planet. You can’t simply boil it down to just buildings that nobody will miss or care about.
If that hasn’t changed your mind, consider that the site’s developers also have a history of neglecting 5 Pointz.
In 2009, the city’s Department of Buildings handed G&M Realty, which the Wolkoffs own, a list of needed repairs, according to the Queens Gazette. The repairs included restoring the building’s facade and fixing multiple safety violations.
The Wolkoffs’ gross negligence almost cost a regular her life.
An April 2009 incident saw jeweler Nicole Gagne fall three stories while descending the building’s staircase, because it suddenly collapsed. The city fined G&M Realty $13,000 for the accident, charging Jerry Wolkoff with a failure to maintain his building. Though Wolkoff expressed regret over the incident, the reality is, this could’ve been prevented if he’d been a responsible landlord.
And despite saying he would take care of the violations, a look at the “Stop Wolkoff’s Plan To Demolish 5 Pointz” Facebook page proves that he hasn’t.
The page features pictures of non-unionized workers (operating without a construction permit or safety equipment), dead vermin, dirty wires, and debris — all from this year.
As a matter of fact, when pressed to complete the repairs, G&M Realty decided they were too costly and walked away from the property in December 2009. While reports claimed the departure was permanent, they apparently decided to return to 5 Pointz. This raises another question: Did they intentionally let the area fall in to disrepair as an excuse to tear it down?
Yes, the Wolkoffs own the 5 Pointz area, but when the property has acted as a cultural haven for the public, does that not come with greater responsibility to maintain it? Why has the family seldom been punished for their multiple transgressions?
Many of the violations present a danger to visitors and artists, and they are all preventable. If the family can’t even maintain warehouses, how can one expect them to maintain actual living spaces? Does the city care more about the top dollar than human life?
Speaking of top dollar, the Wolkoffs have promised to set aside some of the towers for “affordable housing.” Yet, it’s important to note what “affordable” means in Long Island City (LIC).
According to a PIX 11 report, the neighborhood’s “affordable” apartments offer 1 bedrooms at $1,800 per month. Though the price is below the $2,400 market rate in LIC, many New Yorkers would still be unable to afford these residences.
And according to the most-recent U.S. Census, the median household income from 2007 through 2011 in New York City was $51,270. Keep in mind that median income includes income from the householder as well as other residents 15 years old or older.
So if you take away that extra paycheck, that means the median household income would drop even further. Consequently, most people in the city would be priced out of these “affordable” apartments.
If the Wolkoff family uses this model for their “affordable pricing” plan, they may as well paste a sign saying, “Manhattanites Only.” In addition, their high rise may well increase LIC’s rents, further gentrifying the neighborhood and displacing long-time residents.
But perhaps the most-important reason 5 Pointz needs saving is its opportunity. It’s bad enough that graffiti has a criminal reputation; are there other large N.Y.C. spaces offering legal canvases or providing creative youth with something to do after school? The Wolkoffs say they will designate some space in the towers for grafitti, but can said space accommodate thousands of bombers?
I strongly doubt it.
5 Pointz is a national treasure, one that brings so many rich cultures to one place. It offers an educational crash course on hip-hop while providing unique imagery to Queens. Here’s a place where you can gawk at a tag from Stay High 149 one minute, then bump in to DJ Premier on the ones and twos the next. It brings hundreds of tourists on a daily basis, serving as a financial boon for the entire area.
More importantly, as the Big Apple gives way to wealthy hipsters transforming neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, we have to preserve N.Y.C.’s final remaining organic strongholds. We can’t completely stop development, but can’t we at least try to keep some relics of Ye’ Olde New York for our kids and their kids and so forth? It sure sounds better than leaving only bland high rises in its wake.
You can help save 5 Pointz by signing this landmark request form and sending it to Landmark5pointz@gmail.com. We may or may not win this fight, but giving up is not an option!