5 Pointz Explored

March 25th, 2014 by

5 pointz. It's more than just a name of a building in Long Island City. It is an idea, a symbol, and unfortunately, soon to be nothing but a memory. As explorers, it was our sworn duty to explore and document its interiors before it was gone. As an L.I.C. native with a lifetime love of graffiti, there was no way in hell I would be stopped. Before I get into our unabated hours of adventure in 5 pointz, let me drop the history for anyone that doesn't know.

This building began life as the Neptune Meter Company - a company that manufactured water meters at this location until the early 1970s (check out the link for the full Neptune history - it's awesome nerd candy). After they vacated, the building became home to a variety of small businesses and "the crane street (art) studios". Food carts were stored & serviced towards the rear of the building, while artists studios shared much of the space with a 'sweat shop' cranking out clothing and a company that was bootlegging Asian porn movies.

The NY Times described the artist space: The studios are strictly work spaces, filled with jewelers, photographers, sculptors, opera set designers, painters and collagists who typically pay between $250 and $600 in rent, according to Mr. Wolkoff, who bought the complex 36 years ago and also develops warehouses and office parks. Ms. Luttrell, who rents two studio spaces there, believes the rents are roughly half that of the going rates and says there is more than a yearlong waiting list.

Graffiti History
From as early as the 1970s through 1993 the factory was a local mecca for illegal graffiti. The multitude of rooftop walls on the building in view of the #7 subway line combined with its location made it well suited for tagging. The dead end streets it is between eliminated foot traffic, while the open, unfenced access to Sunnyside yard made it an extremely easy area to escape from any police raids (fences were only put up in the mid "00's"). During this time there would be dozens of different throwys from NYCs best and brightest graffiti writers on the rooftops. Towards the end the rooftops were the scene of carpet-bombed throwy battles being fought by the likes of JA, Air, RIS crew, Mkue, and a plethora of others. Writers and crews would take out entire rooftops going over their rivals. I often made a point of taking the 7 trains at least once a week on the way home from work in Manhattan to see who had gotten up in the last few days. There were so many writers bombing the place that walls would turn over - sometimes overnight.

After 1993, the rooftops were painted and then curated under the name 'Phun Phactory'. In 2002, Jonathan 'Meres' Cohen began curating the graffiti here, and re-branded the walls under the '5 Pointz' name, or 5ptz for short. It became an international mecca, drawing an untold, uncounted number of tourists to the area and aerosol artists from around the globe. At least 1000 tourist a week during its heyday would be a safe estimate. Even today, months after the building was white washed, there's a steady stream of tourists that come for one last look at what is left.

Movies & TV
Over the years 5 pointz has been used extensively as a backdrop in music videos and movies. In 2013 it was used in Now You See Me, and in 2011 the series finale of Rescue Me was filmed here - which included a significant amount of special effects showing the building on fire.

The Collapse
In 2009 there was a real life rescue here, when the exterior courtyard staircase collapsed, nearly killing jewelry artist Nicole Gagne in the process. Witnesses and firefighters from nearby Ladder 115/Engine 258 pulled her from the rubble. In the wake of this accident, the NYC Department of Buildings ordered the artist studios be vacated due to numerous safety violations throughout the building. This came as no surprise to many who had visited over the years, all of whom noted the general run down conditions and lack of maintenance. (Nicole Gagne seems to have recovered and moved to L.A. to resume her design work - though she seems to have made no public statements in regard to the accident - perhaps for legal reasons). That the building had so many safety violations should surprise no one: property owners in NYC often neglect older buildings as a means of forcing out renters or to create excuses to demolish them.

Meres continued to curate art for the exterior walls all the way through the summer of 2013. Then suddenly on November 19, 2013 - the building was whitewashed overnight. Owner Jerry Wolkoff gave an interview to New York Magazine where he stated the reason for painting it: "The judge gave me the right to demolish my building. It would take three months. To watch the pieces go down piece by piece by piece would be torturous. In New York, you can't implode a building. So let me just go in and paint it in one morning, and it's over with. I had tears in my eyes while I was doing it. I know it seems like a bitter pill to take, but it's medicine. I didn't like it, but it's going to get me better. It's best for them, and it's best for me. In my new building I'll have walls for them to express their aerosol art."

Wolkoff has gained approval from the usual shady politicians (nearly all of whom collect huge campaign contributions from property owners - local councilman Van Bramer received over $5000 from the Wolkoff family) to build a set of high rise apartment buildings that will be 47 and 41 floors high. While I understand his right to do what he will with his property, and love that he allowed artists to run basically run amuck for decades, I do find it disgusting that one more piece of L.I.C.'s industrial and graffiti history is about to be replaced with more cookie cutter glass buildings that will be inhabited by very wealthy people. The few walls that Wolkoff intends to put up for artists can't adequately replace the history of the factory walls. When seen in context with the closure of 'the space', the actual creation of art in L.I.C. has been dealt seriously heavy blows in recent years. If you ask me, the romance has left Long Island City, never to return. There's no reason why a large part of 5 pointz couldn't have been preserved with only one of the two massive high rises being built to fatten Wolkoff's wallet - a development project that will likely make him a billionaire if he isn't one already. Everyone could have won, but greed speaks louder than logic in money-obsessed NYC.

After the whitewashing, we started keeping a very close eye on 5 pointz. As is often the case with exploring, there is a prime window of time - between abandonment and demolition - when one can get in or be given access by workers (indeed there are perhaps too many LTV members working in the construction and demolition trade). Also for the record - New York State law stipulates that a building must be marked with 'No Trespassing' signs if the public is not allowed to enter. No such signs were present (we photographed the exterior walls just in case).

What we found inside was a maze of hallways and partitions, sections with solid concrete flooring and older sections with decaying wood and stairs of questionable stability. One must understand - 5ptz isn't just one building - it's a series of interconnected structures that together formed one large complex (like Voltron, or something). Some parts were in better condition than others.

The various parts of the building became known to us by the businesses that inhabited them. There was the sweat shop in the basement and first floor - full of boxes of fabric and a rack of cheap ladies clothing. Up towards Jackson avenue was the DVD shop - an large space filled with piles of DVDs and computer drives for replicating them. There was the Jackson Roof and the Big Roof high above the center of the complex. Then there's the apartments. Immediately next to 5 ptz sits a series of 4 storefront buildings with apartments above them. These buildings, while not a part of 5ptz, are also abandoned and slated for demolition ( they are all empty except for the one above the former Shannon Pot bar, where an angry squatter is living and acting hostile towards anyone that enters - workers included).

The entire complex was big enough that 10 people could be exploring in teams of 2 and not run into each other for hours. If one were to listen in on our burn phone calls, you'd think we were speaking in code. Where are you? "Jackson Roof". "The Record Room". "3rd floor apartment over the space womb". We spent hours here. Over a span of 2 days and nights we meticulously combed every inch of 5ptz. To the left are the photos from this adventure.

It was a fun. These days you don't get to see many large scale abandoned buildings such as this. Afterall - it wasn't just one building - it was the entire 5 pointz complex plus these 4 other smaller buildings - each one being uniquely different inside. You don't get this much variety in one location while exploring in NYC these days. I'd rate it a 9 on a 1 to 10 likert scale of abandonment awesomeneness. I'm glad I got to do it - checking off one more large L.I.C. ruin from the long list of buildings I've gained access to over the last 25 years.

We will see if Wolkoff sticks to his word and creates those aerosol art walls (I kinda doubt it - with all the high rises going up LIC will be bland like much of midtown in 2 years when the new buildings are done), and hope to see the concept of 5ptz replicated somewhere, somehow - though honestly location is what made 5 pointz so popular. Time tells all.

PS: If you know nothing about graffiti terminology, here's a funny video clip I caught once of Meres schooling some cougar.

2 responses to “5 Pointz Explored”

  1. DigitalOJ says:

    I’d like to add to some history of The Phun Phactory. In the early days there were rules to painting the building. You had to get a permit to paint, not just pay for one, there was no money involved. There were more interested in getting kids who were already busted for graf to paint there instead of illegally painting NW Queens. The permit process involved a few things. A piece had to be mandatory minimum of 10 colors. There were exceptions to that rule, when I asked what were the exceptions we were told ” you have to paint as good as Zephyr with 3 or 4 cans ” . To get the permit your name had to be documented with address verified by Gov issued ID, VS knew if they needed to find you and you painted there once they can find documented whereabouts there easily. They were constantly asking us to tell us who Trake was while I painted there. If you were bombing and wanted to piece there the only way you’d paint your real tag is if VS knew already who you were. If you continued to bomb illegally with the same tag you used to paint at TPP, your piece was buffed immediately. You had to submit a sketch of your piece, if your sketch was toy you could get assistance from Shaft NOC, but the correction had to be made before you painted it. If you didnt correct it or didnt have the skills you were getting a shitty spot not visible from the 7 train. The first full wall mural there painted legally was Mere, Krom, Dril, Shaft NOC, summer of ’93. Drils Mural was themed after the movie Natural Born Killers, his piece read “Natural Born Driler” with the Woody Harrelson replacing the “I” in his tag. It was not the first full wall piece though at this location, that credit is due to Ghost and Smith painting illegally a few years earlier. Some of the earliest tags I remember on this building prior to TPP were Dr. Seuss (RIP), Gridlock, Spook (RIP) who later were the original members of RTD, Bruz, and Rent. The Spirit of Queens graf literally lives in the surrounding tracks and walls, much of it being documented on El Swatcho’s flickr stream, and if you can get your hands on an old copy of “Move”, Air GZ’s graf zine you can view it the photo documented history of the building pre-legal wall and the surrounding tracks and neighborhood. I remember meeting Bale in the early 90’s, who bombed as CB (cool bale) who had some great flics of this area that I havent seen on Swatch’s flickr stream yet.. Peace, and great article again control… RIP to the deceased writers who had this neighborhood on smash.. their spirits still live there… Sane, Baron,Seus, Spook … they LIVE !

  2. Control says:

    Extremely well said. I never knew how ridiculous Phun Phactory was with the IDs and permits, though I’m not at all surprised. There’s a reason it became 5ptz and Meres came in. He certainly did a better job curating the work as only a true artist could.

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  • About The Author

    Joseph Anastasio

    Design & History nerd, open space & infrastructure advocate. 
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