Artists vs. the World
All neighborhoods are somewhat in thrall to Manhattan, but Long Island City is haunted by it. By day, it’s noisy with the squeal and clatter of elevated trains, the rumble of delivery trucks on the 59th Street Bridge and the hum of subways beneath the sidewalks—a cacophony of people and paraphernalia, all shuttling across the East River. In the evening, the neighborhood is illuminated by the pale glow of Midtown skyscrapers and the streets hue yellow with the tide of returning taxis.
That Long Island City should be the next up-and-coming neighborhood has seemed obvious for decades; New York magazine christened it the next hot neighborhood in 1980, an imprimatur it would not give to Williamsburg for 12 more years. “Plainly, something is happening in Long Island City,” the magazine wrote and plainly, something was. Condos and chic restaurants were in the works, giddy developers were throwing around phrases like “Soho-plus” and “oil field,” and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were zipping over to play afternoon games at Tennisport. Its vast stretches of sparsely populated land were so obviously ripe for redevelopment that its ascendance seemed all but inevitable—a fait accompli that for reasons no one ever quite seems able to account for has always fallen just short of accompli.
In the decades since, it has been called the next Williamsburg, the next Dumbo, the next Bushwick, Astoria-lite and, most inelegantly, “Fort Greene 10 years ago”—its arrival just as inevitable and just as elusive as it has always been, a thing that must be and yet is not.
death of culture
“I’ve been coming here for years. It’s always been a great place where people will get together for art and peace and positive vibes,” said Rhonda Elhosseiny, gazing up at one of the exuberantly graffitied walls of 5Pointz, the Long Island City warehouse and global graffiti mecca. “But the reason I came today is that we don’t know how much longer it will be up and I wanted to see it again.”
She wasn’t the only one. This past weekend hundreds of visitors, including street art aficionados, hip hop-styled aerosol artists, thickly-accented Queens families, French tourists, Waspy couples pushing strollers and a 20-man crew of middle-aged birthday celebrants all wearing Polo, descended on the 200,000 square foot former factory. They came to take in the bright swirls of spray paint—some so fresh you could still smell the heady tang of chemicals in the air—offer sympathy and pay their last respects to the 5Pointz, which is slated for demolition early next year.
The global graffiti mecca known as 5Pointz is no more. Last night, the Wolkoff family, who own the graffiti-covered Long Island City warehouse under the auspices of G&M Realty, sent a team of workers to whitewash over the aerosol art, effectively terminating artists’ long shot bid to save the building from demolition.
Newly unveiled plans for a 50-story hotel and apartment tower on the South Street Seaport waterfront have prompted opponents of developer Howard Hughes Corporation to organize a protest at tonight’s Community Board 1 meeting.
HHC’s proposal also adds a marina to the Seaport and calls for the dismantling and reconstruction of the 106-year old Tin Building.
Artists vs. the World
Sixteen artists who filed a lawsuit against developer G&M Realty over the demolition of Long Island City graffiti compound 5Pointz received a bit of good news yesterday when Judge Frederick Block extended a restraining order against demolition preparation by another 14 days, through November 12.
Judge Block issued a similar 10-day order on October 21. The artists and their legal representation, which includes attorney Jeannine Chanes, invoked an obscure law prohibiting the destruction of artwork in a suit filed earlier this month.
Artists vs. the World
We were a bit skeptical last week when Jeannine Chanes, one of two lawyers representing the Queens-based street art collective 5Pointz, told us that her clients had a fighting chance of stopping the demolition the group’s graffiti-emblazoned warehouse headquarters with an obscure arts law. But although Judge Frederic Block declined to issue a hoped-for injunction late last week, he did grant a restraining order that freezes building owner G&M Realty’s demolition preparations—and any further painting—for 10 days, as first reported by the Long Island City Post. And by all appearances, he seems to be taking Ms. Chanes’s somewhat unorthodox arguments seriously.
For a spray paint-wielding band of graffitists, the Queens street art collective 5Pointz certainly has an impressive nose for obscure legal code. In a frantic effort to remain in their Long Island City warehouse, last week the artists filed a suit in Federal Court against the owner of the warehouse, G&M Realty, citing a violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), a rarely-invoked bulwark against the faulty attribution and unauthorized alteration of some types of visual art.
A contentious plan to demolish 5Pointz, a revered Queens graffiti mecca, and replace it with big apartment towers came closer to reality today when Borough President Helen Marshall gave it her nod of approval.
Now that Ms. Marshall has given G&M Realty the thumbs up, the developer will present the project to the City Planning Commission and then the City Council and mayor.
During his opening remarks at the 5Pointz redevelopment hearing, developer David Wolkoff, whose father Jerry bought the Long Island City property in the 1970s, told the audience, “We’ve been members of the community for over 40 years.” Though they certainly tried (26 years! 29! 33! 4!), none of the speakers in opposition could quite top his time in Long Island City.
“I have fond memories of crawling in the basement of this building” as a child, he told the hostile crowd.
Normally the Wolkoffs wouldn’t have to grovel—it is, after all, their property. But the city dangles extra density as a carrot to developers— a tantalizing 60 percent in the case of this site— if they agree to build extra parking and plazas and to endure the public review process. (Amenities that Court Square has in abundance, including the surprisingly dense thicket of trees by One Court Square. If Jane Jacobs were still alive, we can’t help but wonder if she’d question the number of trees and the paucity of people.)