MELROSE—Ten years ago, the world famous—and anonymous—street artist from England named Banksy, left his mark in The Bronx during a month-long outdoor show in which he would tag at least one wall a day across New York City.
Now, the building on Elton Avenue and 153rd Street which is home to the mural that has been under a locked gate for 10 years, is coming down along as the owner is demolishing the buildings that occupy the lot.
History of the mural
On the morning of October 21, 2013, Melrose residents starting their morning commute through The Hub stumbled upon one of his most controversial pieces during his ‘Better Out Than In’ New York City “residency”—the child spray painting the words “Ghetto 4 life” while a butler holds a tray with spray paint.
Once avid Banksy fans found out the location, thousands descended upon a neighborhood they would otherwise never even think of coming to unless for a game or event at Yankee Stadium at the complete opposite end of the area.
Many residents complained, myself included, how not only the phrase, ‘Ghetto 4 life’ that Banksy chose for his Bronx piece being rather offensive and further negatively stereotyping the borough but also the fact that the South Bronx was and still is full of works by local, home grown graffiti artists, many of whom have also received world-wide renown yet none of these people would make their way to see those works.
By that first evening, the owner had hired security to guard the mural from vandalism as many graffiti artists around the city were destroying the works Banksy left behind. The guards even hid the mural behind make-shift curtains made from bed sheets.
Two days later, a gate was installed along with plexiglass over the section to protect it from any vandalism and damage. While the building owner said at the time his motivation to protect the wall wasn’t financial, let’s be real here—Banksy walls have been known to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and one with such infamy like this Bronx wall probably would fetch a pretty penny.
Sale of the mural
Fast forward to the present day, while walking past the building, I noticed the gate had been opened and the mural was unveiled for the first time in almost 10 years. A gentleman saw my stop and take pictures and he immediately asked me if I was from the gallery.
He then explained that the building was going to be demolished to make way for a charter school and that the mural was going to be sold to a gallery but wouldn’t specify which gallery it was.
The representative for the building owner was there to figure out with the gallerist how to remove the wall.
At one point about a year after Banksy put up the mural, the owner was in the process to convert the building into market-rate apartments but that clearly never materialized and other than the stores on the ground floor, the buildings remained empty for over 40 years.
Patricia Wheeler Bozza, who grew up in Melrose and lived in one of the buildings at 649 Elton Avenue (651 Elton is the one where the Banksy ‘Ghetto 4 Life’ is located), told us she lived there from when she was born in 1947 until 1967.
“It was a railroad flat above stores and the rent started out at $27.30 a month and once we had radiators and risers, the rent rose to $43.80,” said Wheeler Bozza. “The bathtub was in the kitchen!” she added.
Since that conversation several weeks ago with the building representative, the remaining businesses on the ground floor have been shuttered and scaffolding has been erected to get ready for the demolition process.
While we have reached out to the owners, we have yet to receive a response as to what the future of the mural is and where it will end up.
It’s a shame that the mural just remained locked up for all these years no matter how one felt about it.