As New York City transmogrifies in front of the eyes of life long residents into what seems to be an endless rising tide of soulless steel and glass spires climbing to heights few will ever see, the sentiment that rules the day seesaws between nostalgia and lament. Sometimes progress comes in the form of a revitalized waterfront and other times it results in the demolition of an international art destination called 5 Pointz.
I was born and raised in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area and summer time was when Brooklyn would flourish. From hitting up Coney Island or Far Rockaway, going to beach 116 until we switched it up to 94, to playing handball at JHS 126 or Cooper Park if you wanted better competition, to getting into two hand touch or tackle football at McCarren Park, summertime was when you could finally appreciate what everything meant to you before you knew it meant anything at all. On one of those summer nights I became acquainted with 5 Pointz.
Except 5 Pointz wasn't 5 Pointz back then, it was known as The Phun Phactory. On one of those summer nights it wasn't unheard of for a group of us in our mid teens at that point to look for something to do. Often we'd settle on walking up McGuiness across the Pulaski bridge into Long Island City. Heading towards the pre condo waterfront, littered with remnants of industry in the form of broken down concrete walls we'd hop a few fences and would sit on debris looking towards the distant Manhattan skyline. There we'd discuss the future with sweeping optimism not truly knowing how fast it approached us. One of those nights, instead of making the left to go towards the waterfront we made a right and just walked and eventually we stumbled upon it...
A towering monument covered in some of the best graffiti we've ever seen and in the midst of the war on graffiti Giuliani era in NYC this place was that much more amazing. We've all scribbled in our notebooks personal renditions of "So and so was here" imagining we could create art from air, but to be surrounded by it on such a large scale was humbling. It was as if we went from envisioning our dreams by the waterfront to being amongst those who were living theirs on these walls. There were random groups of people either there to participate or appreciate and we felt welcome immediately.
As time went on I would pass by on bike to see how the building transformed each time, like a living breathing part of the neighborhood. It was also always dope to see the site from onboard a passing 7 train.
Eventually Phun Phactory became known as 5 Pointz through the effort of Graf artist Jonathan Cohen aka Meres with the idea that 5 Pointz would be the place the culture of the 5 boroughs of NYC would merge. 5 Pointz however grew beyond that going on to attract graf artists the world over. It would be just as common to see a piece by someone from East New York as a piece by someone from East Berlin.
Few things were as dope as being in the neighborhood, gravitating towards the 5 Pointz court yard and randomly finding artists performing, whether it was rapping, break dancing or both, while a new piece went up near by and music both classic and new poured out the speakers.
Now much has been said about the Wolkoffs true motivation being the estimated $300 million to be made from the eventual conversion of the site or the battle between the Wolkoffs and artist community as they rushed to seek landmark approval. The immediate and eventual impact to the surrounding area and so on, but that isn't what I'm interested in rehashing.
I'm more interested in remembering what it meant to me as someone who grew up in ear shot of those aforementioned blaring speakers and would press his face against the window of the 7 train to catch that temporary glimpse of an art form represented at its highest level. Remembering the energy and vibrancy of everyone who showed up at the rallies to gather signatures and keep spirits up even though a writing of a different sort appeared to be on the wall already. The energy of those who showed up to support the supporters, whether hailing from the 5 boroughs or the 4 corners of the globe the sentiment was the same. Remembering showing up weeks before the infamous white washing event, this time no boisterous crowd or rally, but a smattering of tourists posing enthusiastically while down the block a lone woman noticed that like herself I was taking pictures of the walls in earnest.
We got to talking and she told me she drove 10 hours from Michigan to make pilgrimage to the Graffiti Mecca one last time. Several minutes later a man originally from The Bronx, but now staying in Florida, walks up nearby with his wife and son recalling his own stories and telling his family. He tells me his son had never been to 5 Pointz. It was nice to see that familiar first time visitor look slowly creep across his face, the awe evident in his eyes.
That was the beauty of the broken down building made vibrant by the art of the people, how it brought people together with their own stories. How people, if for even the briefest of moments, related with someone else from the other side of the block or other side of the world. Lastly I'll remember that while watching the neighborhood I grew up in get erased piece by piece in the name of progress primarily for profit, 5 pointz seemed like it could survive the changing times and stand strong, even if it ultimately didn't. Hope is a dangerous thing huh.
Graffiti by definition is temporary. The visual representation of someones thoughts whether braggadocious or benign for passers by to examine and absorb or dismiss.
However even if the art form is temporary, the impact is lasting. Like any art that truly reaches the observer the sentiment remains.
Even if the building couldn't.
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