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Story by Geoff Rickly and Photos by Brian Woodward

Among the newly polished ruins of the lower east side, New York City's last monument to street culture is about to disappear. This is the story of its funeral.

The building at 11 Spring St. has been left all but abandoned by its owner, a mysterious set designer, for the last two decades. In that time, the exterior has become a free canvas for street artists from all over the world. No one is quite sure how it started, but local legend dates back to a famous poster of Chairman Mao that was wheat-pasted by Shepard Fairey, the subversive genius responsible for OBEY (Andre the Giant Has a Posse). The massive image was left up for so long that local graffiti writers took it as an all-clear signal to cover the building with tags and burners on the walls facing Spring and Elizabeth.

Artists from all over the world began to flock this corner as a vital part of any trip to New York City. Not only is the building a massive free gallery on display around the clock, it's also a forum for writers and artists to talk to each other, collaborate, and push the form. British designer D-FACE famously proposed to his girlfriend in huge letters on the building and the collective Faile turned the entire facade into a smutty comic strip. It was the CBGBs of underground art.




When word went out that the building was being turned into condos and the art would all be removed, the Wooster Collective began organizing a massive show to mark the end of an era. The doors were opened and every surface (walls, floors, ceilings, and stairs) was made available. More than 45 artists flew in, including many of the ones that made the spot so historic. Fairey created giant, 20X20 murals of Muslim women carrying guns with flowers shoved into the barrels. DC area anarcho-punk BORF was out of jail and in the house. D-FACE and Thundercut both had show-stopping pieces. The former was a portrait of Che Guevara on a US dollar with his face peeled off. The latter was a defaced city-scape complete with blinking crosswalk signs.

Lines of people stretched throughout the neighborhood for the entire weekend of the show and the smell of fresh paint was thick in the air. Legendary French stencil artist Blek le Rat even made an appearance, installing half a dozen of the iconic figures that inspired the new generation of street artists, including BANKSY and DOLK.

When the smoke cleared the building stood like a nightmare subway train ripped up through the sidewalk, exposing the raw heart of the city to the passing yuppies. In less than a year, it will be a distant memory. But take heart: Street art's not dead. It's just illegal.

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