The “Graffiti House” in Jamaica Plain will soon be coming down.
Not because of community outrage at the bright graffiti-splashed house on Green Street. Far from it: For several years, the brilliant street art surrounding its exterior turned this abandoned house into an art installation enjoyed by the community.
City Realty Group owns the site, and a transit-oriented apartment development will be built on the plot occupied by the dilapidated house, which looks like a two-family that may have morphed from a once-charming Victorian.
“It’s hard to say what it was originally,” said Jacob Simmons, senior project manager at City Realty Group. “It was in rough shape; it did not make sense to keep it.”
So while planning and permissions took their long course, CRG partnered with Avenue of the Arts and turned the building over to local artists to create art on the exterior.
“We took a building that would be considered a neighborhood blight and offered the house as a canvas, so it rises up into a focal point. It is a cool public art installation,” Simmons said.
The artists were given carte blanche — almost: “As long as it wasn’t something overly offensive,” Simmons said. “We’re not artists and we’re learning how to work with them, and we want to do that without stifling creativity. We trusted them to come up with something unique and powerful.”
Unfortunately, like many installations, Graffiti House is finite. The art will be demolished along with the building, something that is unavoidable because the exterior siding is asbestos tile.
“A lot of people asked about keeping the art, but it can’t be removed safely. We will demolish it safely, of course,” Simmons insisted, “but we can’t have people taking parts of it away. This was phase one of how art is going to come into the project, anyway.”
Phase two will happen once the building is completed, which is projected to be by the end of 2021. CRG has partnered with JP Open Studios and JP Arts Council for artists to create a permanent mural on the building.
The finished four-story building, located at 197-201 Green St., will have 23 residential units, including four live/work units for local artists; one retail space; and six parking spots. Green Street Station on the Orange Line is a few minutes away on foot.
There are grumblings about losing Graffiti House, of course.
“Some people will miss the artwork,” Simmons said. “Inevitably, when you take a building that is, for want of a better word, ugly, and provide an opportunity for someone to create something cool like this, then people will miss the art. But, it isn’t like we’re replacing it with nothing. The mural will be a large-scale piece decided by the local community.”
Simmons said it’s a matter of weeks until the house is torn down, but it won’t disappear completely. The interior has already been gutted of salvageable materials and fittings, including period moldings. Those were offered to the community in a virtual yard sale.
“It was first-come, first-served. The staircase is going to someone who’s adding another floor to their house,” Simmons said. “It creates less waste going to the landfill, and it’s cool that parts of the house will go on in the community.”
See more photos of the artwork below: