The Community Mourns the Buffing of 5 Pointz at Tuesday Night's Candlelight Vigil
With the wind blowing, people huddled in circles to keep their candles from going out. The free floaters mostly stayed against the wall; they were scrawling on the blank posters 5 Pointz volunteers put up over the freshly painted stone. The drawings and notes were to stay strictly on the posters, lest the messages, most of them damning father-son owners Jerry and David Wolkoff, be called graffiti. After all, the Wolkoffs had just spent thousands of dollars white-washing the structure to get rid of decades' worth of tags.
For the most part the scene was quiet, but the hushed voices belied the roiling anger at the whitewashing of 5 Pointz, a monument to and museum of New York's graffiti and street art cultures. A paint crew hired by the Wolkoffs buffed the structure in the early morning hours on Tuesday. They covered the structure from floor to ceiling in a layer of white paint thick enough to conceal that there had ever been graffiti there.
As sudden as the whitewash was, 5 Pointz was not the victim of a predatory developer or real estate speculator looking north from Williamsburg. Not exactly, anyway. The building has been owned by the Wolkoff's since the 1971, before it was the "mecca" for street art it's known for today. The family had allowed artists to use the warehouse regardless.
Rumors that the Wolkoffs would tear down 5 Pointz began swirling as far back as 2011, when the elder Wolkoff reportedly entered into conversations with the city planning agency about the potential for new development.
Rumor it remained until summer 2012, when Jerry Wolkoff presented Community Board 2 with a plan to demolish the old warehouse and replace it with high-rise luxury condos.
The announcement tipped off a yearlong battle between the Wolkoffs and 5 Pointz supporters, playing out the familiar anxieties of neighborhood gentrification. At various times in the last year, community backlash succeeded in extracting promises of substantially more affordable housing and studio space than the initial plan contained.
But opposition to the development continued to mount, and on October 10 5 Pointz sued for a temporary restraining order against the Wolkoffs, which was granted, then extended, then finally removed November 13 when a federal judge ruled that he lacked the power to grant an injunction to stop the Wolkoffs.
Up until last weekend, there was hope that 5 Pointz could earn recognition as a historic landmark, permanently derailing the demolition. Supporters held a rally at the site to collect landmark petitions, reaching over 20,000 in all. But paint crews got there first.