Friday, November 7, 2014

5Pointz Landlord Claims He Owns The Name Of The Graffiti 'Temple' He Destroyed

Nearly a year ago today, a New York City institution disappeared in the weirdest of ways. Overnight, landlord Jerry Wolkoff whitewashed the walls of the graffiti-smothered property once known as 5Pointz, where artists of all ages met and worked for more than a decade.

The abrupt erasure of one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks -- a regular stop on guided tours for Europeans seeking the “real” New York -- made national headlines, most of them unflattering for Wolkoff. If he was enemy number one then, he’s below zero today: a new report reveals that the beleaguered landlord is trying to trademark the name “5Pointz,” for the 40-plus story condo buildings he plans to build where the tagged walls once stood.

The act strikes some as hypocritical, given that Wolkoff orchestrated the end of the 5Pointz era. He reportedly submitted the trademark bid in March to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was refused this summer (the name was deemed too close to FivePoint Communities, a real estate development in California), but Wolkoff’s company, G&M Realty, is still within its six-month window to respond to the decision. Wolkoff did not return a request for comment by HuffPost.

Speaking to DNAinfo, the landlord shrugged off accusations of trying to “bank off our name,” as 5Pointz spokeswoman Marie Cecile Flageul put it. His argument is semantical, that the name references a location rather than an institution. “The building is known as 5Pointz," he said matter-of-factly.

Of course, the building in question is doomed for demolition. But Wolkoff is being strategic, say activists. Flageul, who was the group’s press liaison back when attempts were underway to save 5Pointz, told DNAinfo the name-grab is “ironic,” as “the same corporation which single-handedly destroyed all the artwork known as 5Pointz” is “trying to capitalize” on the caché that comes with its legendary moniker.

By accounts, 5Pointz got its name from Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen, the lead “curator” of the former site. For years, Wolkoff allowed artists like Cohen to tag the warehouse’s decrepit walls and rent studios for next to nothing, rather than bring the building up to city codes. In 2002, according to The New York Times, Cohen -- whose street name references the letters he tagged best: “M,” “R,” and “E” -- took over what was then called Phun Factory, rechristening it 5Pointz to signify a meeting point of all five boroughs.

What was always an uneasy peace between Wolkoff and his quasi-tenants dissolved fully in late 2012, when the landlord made plans to redevelop the site. For months, a team led by Cohen and Flaguel petitioned the city to deem 5Pointz an official, protected landmark. The effort became moot with the whitewashing, but the property’s historical value wasn’t lost on Wolkoff. Speaking to HuffPost last year, he insisted artists would be back, citing a “tagging wall” and studio spaces to be blocked off in the new condos. He loves great graffiti art, he told us, both for the beauty of the work and for the romance street art can bring to a neighborhood.

From a developer’s point of view, bottling that romance to spray on the new property is just good business. But to hear Wolkoff’s detractors on his dealings, he’s already lost: there’s a stench that can’t be covered up. “No artist is ever going to paint his walls,” Cohen told HuffPost, at a midnight vigil held the day after the whitewashing. “He’s destroyed a temple.”

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