The fate of graffiti mecca 5Pointz has been up in the air for weeks after 17 artists filed a lawsuit to block Jerry Wolkoff — owner of the building — from razing it.
The paint-spattered building, which has drawn thousands of art fans to Long Island City, is up for demolition with a large, mixed-use development set to be put in its place.
The proposal, approved by the City Council several weeks ago, jump-started a revolution to save the graffitied building, but after three days of artists and architectural experts testifying, State Supreme Court Judge Joseph Bloch ruled against placing an injunction on the building while the court case proceeds.
Contrary to several published reports, this does not mean that the building is coming down anytime soon.
“Everyone seems to think that this means the wrecking ball is waiting outside right now and that the building will be demolished within the week,” said Jeannine Chanes, the lead attorney representing the 5Pointz artists.
The first day the case was brought before the judge, it was made clear that the plaintiffs would have a tough time making their case; however, by the third day of the injunction hearing, observers reported that Bloch had a change of heart and admitted to visiting and admiring the 5Pointz building.
“He said that it would break his heart if the building was brought down,” said Marie Cecile Flageul, who works closely with the artists at 5Pointz.
Bloch suggested that they apply for landmark status even though Jonathan “Meres” Cohen and the other 5Pointz representatives had their application for it denied in August.
“This is normal for the Landmarks Commission to reject the application the first time around,” Flageul said. “Bloch even asked if he would be allowed to reach out to Landmarks and said that landmarking may need a little updating in what they allow to be preserved. He considered all of this and said that he thinks it should be the responsibility of the city rather than just on his shoulders.”
The City Council, however, almost unanimously approved the proposal to create luxury and affordable housing on the site.
But what has frayed the nerves of the 5Pointz lawyers and artists are the reports that made the demolition call on Friday, three days before Bloch made his final decision.
“People took one sentence from the beginning of the hearing when he said that he couldn’t imagine granting an injunction and didn’t focus on anything that happened after that,” Flageul said. “I have families that come here every weekend with their kids and it’s breaking their heart to read these things in the newspaper. Even the kids are upset and asking if they would be able to help in any way.”
Though the injunction has been denied, the fight is far from over. The outer shell of the structure will not be touched for several weeks as there are still tenants who are allowed to remain in the building until December.
The first step in the demolition will be asbestos removal, which will also require some time and should not affect the facade of the building.
“This isn’t the end of anything; the restraining order and injunction was more for peace of mind to ensure they would not damage the artwork as part of the lawsuit,” Flageul said.
She added that Wolkoff himself said if he heard any possibility of landmarking the building, he would have it painted over.
“This happens frequently when a building is in the process of being landmarked,” she said. “There was a case when the entire facade of a building was destroyed conveniently at the same time it was being considered for landmarking. Now was it the owner? It can’t be proven but it would make sense.”
In addition, the artists are alleging that Wolkoff violated a two-week temporary restraining order when workers took down two fences with artwork — one of which was done by Meres, the lead plaintiff in the case.
There has been no proof that Wolkoff threatened to paint over the building or if he violated the TRO by removing the fences.
The plaintiffs are reviewing the possibility of submitting to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the second time.
The one speed bump they may meet regarding the application is the length of time the paintings have been on the building.
Reportedly the oldest painting can be traced back 20 years but the LPC requires 30 years to consider if it is worth landmarking.
Whether the LPC will make an exception for 5Pointz is unclear.
“In relation to other kinds of art, graffiti and street art are relatively new,” Flageul said. “We have had art on our walls for many years and there is no reason we should not be able to achieve landmark status.”
The artists have been garnering support from other artists and art lovers alike. One couple donated a car to display, on which the artists painted the 5Pointz logo.
Even internationally reknowned mystery artist Banksy, who had a month-long residency in New York during October, threw his weight behind 5Pointz in his last post on his exhibition website.
If the building is brought down, the artists are seeking compensation for the loss of their artwork that could cost the Wolkoff family hundreds of thousands of dollars.