As the above-ground train rolls past the Court Square stop on the 7 line, a stone’s throw into the heart of Long Island City, passengers are awakened by a defiant cacophony of shapes and colors against a backdrop of the graying and decrepit Queens skyline. There, a red-brick warehouse stands proud, one entirely outfitted in graffiti tags and murals by aerosol artists. Born of a mission to create a legal urban canvas for the criminal art form flaring up in excess throughout the city during the early ’90s, the brainchild of founder Pat DiLillo—then known as “The Phun Phactory”—opened in 1993. In 2002, Jonathan Cohen—an FIT grad who had been tagging since he was 13 and is better known in these parts by his nom de plume Meresone—began curating the work. He soon rechristened the building “5 Pointz,” after the five boroughs of New York City. But it has since branched out and become a cultural mecca of sorts, with pieces by artists from cities such as Paris, Madrid, London and Germany.
On any weekday, while businesses—a clothing factory, storage space for city hotdog vendors and a small non-profit gallery called Local Projects—hum away inside the building, Mr. Cohen can be found in or around the building, monitoring projects and making sure nobody is painting without his permission.
“I’m here every day, I have no life.”
But the 39-year-old Flushing Native may soon be getting his free time back—at the price of his life’s work. Though plans to tear down 5 Pointz have been rumored since 2010, Jerry Wolcoff, owner and developer of the site, has recently announced tentative plans to erect two large residential towers with ground floor space for retail. According to Mr. Wolcoff, the September 2013 demolition date is awaiting approval by the community board, which would make the end of this era official.
According to Marie Rouge, a Parisian and self-proclaimed graffiti aficionado who handles the limited public relations for the building, the media coverage was the first they had heard of it.
“He’s not calling us and giving us information. We are learning everything from the press,” she told us. “We fully understand that our landlord is a real estate developer, and that he owns the building and that he can do whatever he wants. [But] we feel that what has been built in the past ten years and what 5 Pointz represents, not only in New York City, but worldwide, is not something you can just dismiss.”
“It’s sad that there’s nothing like this in the city,” Mr. Cohen said. “There is nowhere else to do this.”
But despite the disappointment and occasional outrage, the two seem resigned to accepting the impending demise. They haven’t made any plans to picket or circulated any aggressive calls to action. Most of the protest has come from a petition circulated by fans called “SHOW YOUR LOVE TO 5POINTZ,” which generated almost 15,000 signatures, and by a few minor donations on the PayPal section of the 5 Pointz website.
5 Pointz administrators are instead focusing their energy on the building’s tenth anniversary celebration—an ongoing summer festival featuring free events every Saturday. So far, the building has hosted performances by DJ Marly Marl, ’80s break dancing crew The Dynamic Rockers and various other New York City hip-hop icons. These are the things that drew Mr. Cohen to 5 Pointz and the graffiti world in the first place. “I liked this world when I was young because it was just about having fun,” he said of his goal to re-imagine the glory days of Hip Hop on this corner of Long Island City.
At the event honoring The Dynamic Rockers, Mr. Cohen succeeded in bringing that world to life as the building was rife with nostalgia. One who followed the thump of the bass to the loading dock area travelled back to a pre-Giuliani New York City, straight out of a rap video from the ’80s—flattened-out cardboard boxes made a makeshift dancefloor and the nearby fire hydrant had been broken open, all set against the graffiti backdrop of 5 Pointz. Break-dancers leapt forth into circles, a DJ spun older rap with splashes of James Brown and a few artists worked on new murals for the ever-changing face of the building. Like Mr. Cohen and Ms. Rouge, the attendees seemed nonplussed by the imminent danger to their home. True to a community long under siege, they carried on, business as usual.
Luis Lamboy Jr., or Zimad, once designed backdrops for MTV and clothing for singers like The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff. He now calls 5 Pointz home. “This place is about the art form itself, the goodness of the art form without the police,” Mr. Lamboy said. “It’s about the positive.”
One of the honorees, a Dynamic Rocker who goes by the name Glyde, refuses to believe 5 Pointz is going away. “I’m not going to promote that,” he said. “I’m a positive thinker. I’m going to keep with that they’re not going to tear it down—until they do.”
For a demographic that vehemently fought gentrification in the past, they appeared suspiciously quiet. Perhaps New Yorkers have just grown used to city landmarks, and childhood memories, being rezoned.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Mr. Cohen was circling the block as usual. Within earshot of the party, he was working, as he had for nearly a decade. He stopped often to make sure everything was going to plan—and that nobody strayed from their designated spot or painted illegally.
He can barely make it halfway down the block without stopping.
“Is this the next generation?” Mr. Cohen asked an old friend carrying his baby, before turning to us. “Kids that were 15 when they started coming here now with their kids, I see that a lot.” He then asked us to wait while he stopped an unauthorized photo shoot.
Truth be told, it doesn’t seem that Mr. Cohen is really fighting the demolition at all, though it might just be because he doesn’t have a second to spare. Or perhaps he is just used to change. After all, 5 Pointz looks different every month.
“I believe ultimately there’s only so much to do. You can only work so hard to do something,” he told us. “In the end what’s meant to be will be.”