Graffiti Landmark Nears An End

STORY BY Artie Vincent

Published: April 20, 2013

Just steps off the subway station at Court Square in Long Island City, NY,  a bystander could easily get startled.  
 
Often enough, a mob of 30-something males move toward the corner of Jackson Avenue and Davis Street, brandishing tattoos, boom boxes and large duffle bags filled with aerosol cans and towels. In the notoriously grungy, industrial Queens neighborhood, this is a unsettling sight. 
 
However, this is the sign of an artistic revolution. And this is its soldiers. And at the corner of Jackson and Davis is their battleground. 
 
Welcome to 5 Pointz -- New York City's most fascinating and unheralded art museum. 
 
The 7 train rumbles up above, shaking the elevated track line as it goes by. The factories and garages line up the blue-collar streets of Long Island City. The eerie Sunnyside subway graveyard lays near by. 
 
And smack in the middle is a transformed 4 story warehouse covered completely with a plethora of murals and graffiti tags. The sprawling warehouse spans a complete square block, and the views are urban eye candy. 
 
In 1993, the building was first established as the Phun Phactory, and was originally the home of the program "Graffiti Terminators", which was to discourage illegal graffiti and vandalism in the city. 
 
Then years later, curator Jonathan Cohen, who's from nearby Flushing, maintains the storied once-dilapated warehouse since 2001, when he was first granted permission by the building owner to begin its first mural. And it grew from there.
 
Oh did it grow. So much that it's become a street art lovefest and a self-proclaimed "graffiti mecca of the world". Painters from France, Australia and numerous other country have been drawn to the landmark. The building's most notable pieces -- a portrait of deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G. was painted by New Zealand artist OD.  
 
In some guidebooks, 5 Pointz is called the "hippest" attractions in Queens.  Soon the spot had a motto: "Institute of Higher Burnin".  5 Pointz, which boasts more than 350 murals and adorned by rappers and cartoonists alike, is a more popular destination than its Long Island City neighbors: the MoMA PS1, Noguchi Museum and the Socates Sculpure Park.  
 
The location has been center of the Hip Hop Movement in the 1990s and backdrop of many music videos as well as fashion shoots.. Musicians Joss Stone, Joan Jett and Doug E Fresh have visited the art complex numerous times. 
 
Graffiti is still illegal in NYC. 
 
But 5 Pointz is an outlet -- they artists can paint without worries. In a city overflowing with art, many community board members and councilmen consider 5 Pointz the truest representation of creativity.
 
By the end of the year, though, it will be completely gone. 
 
Long Island City is rapidly becoming a real estate gold mine, and developers are trying to lure the building owner, Jerry Wolkoff, to sell his 980,000-square foot deteriorating warehouse. The beloved mecca could be torn down and replaced by a pair of 40 story residential towers. 
 
According to Wolkoff,  he is losing money from the warehouse. He doesn't charge the artist to paint on the building. In fact, when photographers and film crews rent the building for shoots, Wolkoff gives as a sum of the proceeds to the struggling artist. 
 
Cohen, whose tag name is Meres One, campaigned with local board members to start "Save 5 Pointz" and prove the importance of the building in New York City lore. But Wolkoff wasn't persuaded. He has scheduled the demolition of 5 Pointz in September 2013. 
Other Stories by Artie Vincent
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