The East Village Embraces a Colorful Past
A condominium conversion in the East Village is capitalizing on its building’s colorful past, spray-paint squiggles and all.
Provocative artwork, some depicting Cubist nudes, children’s toys and explosives, that was splashed across walls in the empty building, a former rental at 324 East Fourth Street, and discovered by Mortar Architecture and Development, the developer, has been professionally photographed for posterity. And buyers in the 11-unit, seven-story project, named Altes House, will receive these framed photos as
gifts, to preserve the building’s legacy. “There were things that were broken, there was this graffiti everywhere, but once you started to get into it, and look at it, you started to become amazed by each piece,” said Anthony Morena, the principal of Mortar, about that morning in January 2014 when he entered the abandoned building and discovered the striking street art. To others, the scene inside might have appeared to be major vandalism. Cupboards were smashed, a stove was painted black and Budweiser bottles styled like Molotov
cocktails were stenciled onto a cupboard.
Today, Altes House, which replaced its original facade as part of a gut renovation, is made up of a three-story modernistic section atop the original four-story rental building, which gives it a layer-cake look from the street. The guerrilla artists who gathered in the building and spent almost a week making it over into an impromptu work of art would likely be surprised by the building’s subsequent transformation.
Altes House’s apartments, which are expected to open this winter, range from one-bedrooms with about 600 square feet to a three-bedroom penthouse with about 1,600 square feet. Prices average about $1,300 a square foot, or starting at $749,000 for a one-bedroom. The Miller Samuel appraisal company estimates that apartments typically sell for about $1,100 a foot in the neighborhood. Sales are to start this month through the Harkov Lewis Team of Halstead Property Development Marketing.
The artists who staged a mass break-in were not the first to use the building as an open canvas. About a month before the artists arrived, Mr. Morena said, one of his partners told him a former tenant hosted a large party in the empty building and invited a group of artists, who scribbled on the walls while they were there. Mr. Morena said he thinks a partygoer might have taken a key to the place, or at least
figured out that artists could come back soon and have it to themselves. On Jan. 6, artists came and worked for several days at the address, according to a spokesman for Hanksy, a street artist from the area who claims to have organized the event and is a pun-prone parodist of the artist Banksy. Then on the night of Jan. 10, the public, or at least some people who could figure out some telltale clues online, was invited to see the completed works in a show called “Surplus Candy,” according to Brandon Rosenblatt, Hanksy’s manager,
who had to speak for his client in an interview because much of his client’s portfolio is technically illegal.
One of these clues to the show’s whereabouts, Mr. Rosenblatt added, was a photo of 324 East Fourth Street’s facade, which, until it was recently demolished, had featured a massive mural with swaths of peach and pink, a tree and animals. Hanksy was not at that first December party and does not know Mr. Morena or other people involved with the project, Mr. Rosenblatt said, noting that Hanksy was able to access the building “through his network of friends and artists.” For his part, Mr. Morena said he was “shocked” to discover the altered state of his site on the Monday after the show.
The experience, though, was memorable, said Sot, a stencil artist who is part of the team Icy and Sot, two brothers from Iran living in Brooklyn. They contributed four pieces to Surplus Candy, including those Budweiser bombs, as well as Coke-bottle versions being carried in a tray by a protester whose face is wrapped in a scarf. “We could do more with the space, when you know it was going to be demolished,” said the 24-year-old Sot, who declined to provide his name because he, too, frequently runs afoul of the law. “You have more freedom than in a gallery.” Because of demolition, which removed most of the interiors and the facade, most of the show’s art was lost. But Mortar did entomb a few pieces of art on the eastern and western walls in Sheetrock, including one that warns “There Goes the Neighborhood” in bubble letters the color of jelly beans. Future archaeologists might find them, Mr. Morena said. For now, though, buyers will discover lacquered cabinets and Carrara marble counters in the kitchens, and walnut vanities and heated towel racks in the baths. And though the artistic intruders might have destroyed a stove, the building now sports deluxe Bertazzoni ranges. “Street art was initially something that society frowned upon, and then it became a new avenue of fine arts, and now it’s being used as a marketing tool to promote these dilapidated buildings,” Mr. Rosenblatt said. “But at the end of the day, if you give an artist a wall, I think they’re happy.”
A version of this article appears in print on October 11, 2015, on page RE12 of the New York edition with the headline: Embracing a Colorful Past .