For many years, the Wolkoff family, wealthy developers, allowed street artists to paint all over the old warehouse in Long Island City known as 5Pointz. That came to an end in the very early hours of Tuesday morning, as crews painted over the street art that had made the building an icon to many.
But the artists and those who keep up with the news in Queens knew, or should have known, that it would happen one day. And the Wolkoffs had every right to do it. Yes, the artists were trying to stop the building’s pending destruction in court, but they had a very difficult case to make. And they were trying to get it landmarked, but that’s a long, arduous process. They may very well be right that the Wolkoffs took action this week in response to the landmarking effort.
We feel sympathy for the artists, but the main point is that it was only thanks to the Wolkoffs that 5Pointz became what it did at all. They allowed people to spray paint the building, making the images there street art, according to the Police Department’s definition, as opposed to graffiti, which is done without a building owner’s permission.
Instead of vilifying the family for deciding that this is the time to tear down the old warehouse and build gleaming skyscrapers in its place, the artists should be glad they got to utilize the building for as long as they did. The Wolkoffs own it, and property rights are valued in the United States for good reason.
The fact is LIC has changed a great deal since people first started painting 5Pointz. The building is in what had been a rundown area for years. Some bohemian artwork was clearly an improvement. And people naturally got used to it — though not everyone is a fan. You’re just not hearing much right now from those who considered it an eyesore. Now, however, LIC is the place to be, with million-dollar apartments going up all over the place.
Graffiti, or street art, has also changed. It was not too long ago that it was the very symbol of urban blight. Now someone such as the British street artist called Banksy can sell his works for six figures. But that doesn’t mean the loss of 5Pointz is equivalent to the loss of the old Penn Station back in the ’60s. Much of the art there was temporary in the first place.
The Wolkoffs promise to provide street artists with a new canvas in their planned buildings. As long as they keep their word, we can’t blame them for doing what they want with their property. That’s their right as the owners. We hope the artists can work with them when the new buildings go up.