Graffiti Defaces Symbol of Polish Greenpoint

The Polish flag on the steel water tower in Greenpoint has been defaced by graffiti. (Photo by Wojtek Maślanka via Nowy Dziennik)

The Polish flag on the steel water tower in Greenpoint has been defaced by graffiti. (Photo by Wojtek Maślanka via Nowy Dziennik)

A Polish flag painted on the steel water tower in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has been partly covered by graffiti. Beside being a characteristic sight, and one of the highest structures of Greenpoint, the water tower has for years been a symbol of the Polish neighborhood because of the flag.

Now the word “east” is painted over the red portion of the flag. According to witnesses, the act of vandalism happened between March 15-20.

“I was walking by the tower on March 15 and it looked fine. Five days later I saw the graffiti,” said a Greenpoint resident.

It is hard to determine what inspired the graffiti artist to paint over the Polish flag. Among the hypotheses that have emerged is that the person may have wanted to score a point by leaving his graffiti on the highest structure in Greenpoint. Or someone intended to point to the demographic changes the neighborhood is undergoing; or maybe to insult the Poles.

No one knows for sure how to interpret the word “east” either. It could refer to the East River, which flows nearby, or it could be the artist’s tag.

Regardless of the interpretation, the graffiti has upset many Greenpoint residents and friends of the neighborhood.

“This was a unique symbol of the Polish neighborhood marvelously visible from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and from whatever side you are entering Greenpoint,” said Mieszko Kalita, a former member of Community Board 1. “By painting over the flag, somebody wanted to hint that Greenpoint is becoming less Polish. This is very symbolic,” he added.

“We welcomed hipsters and pseudo artists into the neighborhood and now we are seeing the consequences,” said Marian, a longtime resident of Greenpoint.

It’s not only Poles who are upset by the graffiti on the Polish flag. It’s also Americans who have grown roots in Greenpoint in the past couple of years.

“This is an act of vandalism that shows a lack of respect for another culture – a culture that has a long and rich tradition in Greenpoint. I think this act of vandalism is insulting and distressing,” said Heather Letzkus, a Greenpoint activist who writes a neighborhood blog. She added that she hopes appropriate steps will be taken to restore the flag. Leaving the graffiti, in her opinion, would be giving approval for future acts of vandalism.

Ms. Letzkus also points to other acts of vandalism being committed in Greenpoint, which she suspects have been committed by strangers from other neighborhoods. She is convinced none of the local residents would want to demolish their home surroundings.

“Many residents, me included, love the water tower with the Polish flag. For me this is Greenpoint’s iconic symbol,” Ms. Letzkus said.

According to available information, the person who painted the flag on the water tower over 15 years ago now lives in a different part of the city.

The tower with the Polish flag has been immortalized in many posters and photographs, including these made and sold by Heather Letzkus. It has also been featured by artist Kellyann Monaghan on many of her paintings. The tower itself, according to Untapped Cities, is one of 10 unique water towers in the New York region.

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