Volume 76, Number 25 | November 8 - 14, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

New artwork is springing up on the outside of 11 Spring St.

Before condos, an art finale for mystery building

By Lincoln Anderson

For years, the former horse stable at 11 Spring St. has been a hulking mystery on Little Italy’s edge near the Bowery. Its reclusive owner was said to have filled the inside with all manner of ingenious gadgets. Meanwhile, its outside accumulated layer upon layer of graffiti and posters, earning it a worldwide reputation among taggers and street artists. Adding to the building’s intrigue, at night, white pin lights dangling in each window gave it a peaceful, romantic feeling.

Not long ago, the building’s eccentric owner cashed in, selling it to media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan, who then commenced converting it into his private residence. But the junior Murdoch eventually sold to new owners, who are now, once again, planning to renovate it.

But the construction work is on hold, at least for a while, while the artwork continues, at least for a while.

Last Thursday night, passersby strolling along Spring St. might have noticed yet another new artwork being painted on the building’s facade. Using a wide housepainter’s brush, Chaz, who had just jetted in from London for the day, was putting the finishing touches on a 20-foot-tall, black-and-white, smiley-face figure — his signature character, which he calls The London Police, or TLP.

“It’s known as a place to put your stuff up,” he said in his cockney accent of 11 Spring St., as he dabbed on some black paint. Artists from all over Europe will soon be flying in to festoon the building, inside and out, with paintings and graffiti, before a final show, he said.

“It’ll be like a last, little cultural thing,” he explained.

The Wooster Collective, a Downtown arts group, is organizing the effort to usher the famed building out with an art bang before it’s developed into luxurious residences for the rich.

With the building thoroughly decorated, on Dec. 16 there will be a one-night art opening, at which the Dandy Warhols have been invited to play.

Malcolm Stevenson, the construction project manager, was at the building last Thursday evening. He said the new owners, a husband-and-wife couple, have a background in art history and wanted to do it this way before starting the work.

“We felt that we had to respond to it some way, and that’s why we put the show together,” Stevenson said. “It will be an opening of one night — and that’s it. It’s very fluid; we just met last night,” he said, referring to their first discussions about the art finale. “It’ll be free — it’s about the art,” he said.

Stevenson noted the husband has done a lot of similar renovations in south Florida. The building will be turned into three triplex apartments and one floor-through apartment, he said. One floor will be added on top, though covering only 30 percent of the rooftop.

Stevenson said Lachlan Murdoch also had planned to construct an additional story.

“He had purchased the building; had plans in place. Some construction material was in place,” he said. “They pulled out with the contractor snapping chalk lines on the floor where the bathroom was going to go.”

Four years ago, The Villager reported on 11 Spring St. and the former Germania Bank building at 190 Bowery, dubbing them the Bowery area’s two graffiti-covered “mystery buildings.”

As for the white pin lights that used to be in 11 Spring St.’s windows, it’s said the former owner added them after neighbors called the building an eyesore.

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