N.Y. Warehouse Owner Whitewashes Over Graffiti Haven

Nov 20, 2013
Originally published on December 12, 2013 12:51 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Our last word in business today is: Vandalism in reverse.

Before sunrise yesterday, Jerry Wolkoff snuck over to a warehouse in Queens, New York and painted it all over. In this case, however, Mr. Wolkoff was the building's owner, he had a crew to help him and the paint was whitewash covering up decade's worth of graffiti.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now here's the thing, the building is known as 5Pointz, and was one of the few legal places in New York for artists to practice graffiti. The warehouse provided a giant communal canvas for hundreds of artists - five stories of bright paintings in a gray industrial landscape.

INSKEEP: The building was a destination for graffiti artists from around the world, as well as a stop for tourists. And all of the painting happened with Jerry Wolkoff's blessing.

MONTAGNE: Until he decided to raise the empty warehouse and build luxury apartments. Some artists had been trying to stop his plans and preserve 5Pointz. The famous British street artist Banksy even weighed in during his recent New York residency. His final work was a call to save 5Pointz.

INSKEEP: At the end, graffiti artists who commonly work outside the law sought the protection of the law. But New York City officials declined to block the demolition or declare the building a landmark. Marie Flageul is one of the dozens is one of the dozens of 5Pointz and supporters who gathered at the building yesterday to stare sadly at the newly blanked walls.

MARIE FLAGEUL: You have 200,000 square feet of art here, so this is the biggest crime in art history of the 21st century. So who is a vandal now? Jerry Wolkoff is a vandal.

MONTAGNE: Jerry Wolkoff said he loves the graffiti that accumulated on his building over the years. He says he had the walls whitewashed to avoid the pain of watching the graffiti slowly destroyed during the demolition.

JERRY WOLKOFF: I had tears in my eyes when I had the men painting. I think it's best for all of us that it's over with.

MONTAGNE: The milk's spilled, he said, it's over.

And that's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.