By Christine Chung, THE CITY
This story was originally published on July 2, 2019 by THE CITY.
The developers who whitewashed the street art at the legendary Queens graffiti hotspot 5Pointz want to paint over bad feelings and lure artists back to the site.
The owners are vying to capitalize on the Long Island City property’s colorful history — replacing the once-art bedecked warehouse complex with a luxury apartment development dubbed 5Pointz Towers.
“It’s hard when you get bashed in the papers, but we’ve always been pro-artist and we always wanted artists and we would love to have some of the artists that were at the building before to come back again,” said David Wolkoff, who co-owns the complex with his father, Gerald. “That’s up to them. I would love to speak to them.”
In November 2013, before the warehouse complex’s demolition, painters erased the work of thousands of international street artists who had decorated the ever-changing building.
That spurred some artists to file a federal lawsuit in Brooklyn. In February 2018, a judge ruled in their favor and ordered the developers to pay $6.7 million in damages. The Wolkoffs appealed the decision and are awaiting a court date.
David Wolkoff said the name of the 1,122-unit development was picked because “that was what the site has been for…years.” A promotional website is littered with renderings of people leisurely strolling in verdant open space, bordered by street-art murals.
“We really enjoyed the work they placed on the walls previously. We have always enjoyed it. If we didn’t, we would not have allowed it to happen,” Wolkoff told THE CITY. “For 20 some-odd years, longer than that, we were always planning on building a big building.”
Artist Still Bitter
Jonathan Cohen, also known by his tag Meres One, scoffed at Wolkoff’s offer. Cohen, who in 2002 bestowed the name 5Pointz on the warehouse complex, said he would “not work with the Wolkoff family.”
“Especially when they are once again showing their true appreciation of the art, as if the whitewashing was not enough. Using the name of my 501c3 and the program I ran and created for free for 11 years,” he added. “Using a logo created by me and committing copyright infringement. Expecting myself or any other aerosol artists to do this work for free and waive our rights….
“They showed their true appreciation of the art on November 19, 2013, and they are consistently showing that they like exploiting artists rather than supporting them,” said Cohen, who is one of the 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the developers.
Records show that Cohen incorporated a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for 5Pointz on July 2, 2004.
Wolkoff told THE CITY that he was “pretty sure” the company successfully trademarked the name “5Pointz.”
A search of the federal trademarks system does not show 5Pointz registered to any entity.
‘We Love the Art’
In 2013, the city approved a special permit for the development, despite the local community board’s resounding vote no. The project called for 1,000 apartments spread across two towers — 47 and 41 stories — along with 12,000 square feet in artist space and 32,000 square feet in public open space.
Wolkoff is now requesting modifications: a 48-story tower and 42-story tower with 1,122 total units, 15,000 square feet in artist space and 32,245 square feet in open space. Community Board 2 has yet to issue a recommendation.
A presentation shown at a June 20 CB2 committee meeting did not list any three-bedroom apartments in the two towers, to the alarm of multiple community board members. In the plan’s previous iteration, 100 three-bedroom units had been allotted.
Wolkoff assured the committee three-bedroom apartments were planned. The first tower is slated to open by as soon as the end of the year.
At the committee meeting, Wolkoff said he wanted local artists and curators to get involved with the project, and asked the community board to supply him with a list of candidates. On Monday, he said he hadn’t yet received a roster, but that was “looking forward” to the process.
“We love the art and that’s why it’s coming back in some fashion all around our building again,” Wolkoff said. “You’re rebuilding a form of art as well. Architecture is a form of art. To express that in a physical being is expressing art…. We took it down, we did what we had to do to express our own art.”
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.