51 Pacific and the Green Villain: Welcome to the Fun House

by Bill Benzon

I was living in the Lafayette section of Jersey City at the time, just in from Communipaw Avenue on Van Horne, next to the Jackson Funeral Home, the largest black funeral home in the city and up the block from the Monumental Baptist Church. It was only a couple of weeks before Hurricane Sandy roared though at the end of October 2012, though no one knew she was coming at the time. I was at a meeting of the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation, chaired by June Jones, Executive Director.

One of agenda items involved adding a skate park to the Berry Lane Park that was closing in on a start date. I spoke in favor of it – indeed, I’d brought the idea to June a couple weeks before as it had been something I’d been pursuing for awhile – as did Musaddiq Ahmad and others. Musaddiq came up to me after the meeting and told me that if I wanted to see some interesting graffiti – which may have come up in the meeting as well, I don’t know, but somehow he knew of my interest – I should come down to a place on Pacific, just a couple of blocks away. Amazing graffiti all over the walls inside and in the alley out back as well.

As I recall what he said registered well enough, but it didn’t quite compute. Why not? Because I’d been photographing Jersey City graffiti for several years now and, while I certainly didn’t think I had it all, what Musaddiq was describing was a major cache of fresh graff right under my nose and I didn’t even some much as suspect it. But that’s how the world is sometimes. You just don’t know what’s right around the corner.

So a couple of days later I walked down to 51 Pacific, the major north-south street in Lafayette, rang the buzzer, was admitted, and walked up a couple of flights of stairs and was amazed. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the front of the building – why would I? it was a nothing building, an old Clorox Bleach Factory – but I did take a shot from the roof. That’s it up there. That’s the kind of area it was, light industrial. You can see a bit of an Al Smith moving van in the lower right. An extension of the New Jersey Thruway runs across the middle of the photo and, over to the right, spills into the Holland Tunnel leading into Manhattan.

This is what slammed me when I walked through the door:

All that green! And those sallow emaciated women! I suppose the green is linked to Green Villain, a name derived from the fact that the building is located at the border of the Greenville neighborhood. As for the women, I suppose it was the artist’s (Mustart) fetish, though I didn’t have such a thought at the time. My sensorium was blitzed.

Anyhow, you walk down the hall, take a left through the door, and come to another door – at least I think that’s how it went, it’s been some time:

Go though the door and you’re in the main room:

The pair of images to the left is by Yok and Sheryo, originally from Australia and Singapore, but now operating out of New York City. Notice the barbell on the floor at the left. Someone lives here, a couple of people in fact. Notice that a spot on the wall at the upper right is marked reserved.

The space was curated by Greg Edgell, aka the Green Villain. I met him that first day, along with Musaddiq. I forget who else was there.

Anyhow, if you go through that door, these two walls greet you:

Continue on and you go down some stairs and out into the alley. That’s the door, just to the left of the center of the image:

This was painted by two kids from Finland who’d just been given some cans and a spot on the wall. Apparently they’d never done this before.

Let’s see, oh, I don’t know, there’s so much to choose from, but why not go in the other direction:

This is along one wall:

That’s not all, not by a long shot. But I’m getting dizzy.

Let’s go back in and up the stairs to the roof:

By now you’re beginning to get the idea, no? Every surface gets painted. Imagine you’re seeing this, for the first time, live and in person full size and I’m not showing you more than a fraction of what I saw that first time because there’s so much and you wouldn’t even believe me.

We come out this door:

And we’re back where we began. The first shot, where we saw the Al Smith moving van peeking out, was to the southeast. This is what we see looking to the northeast:

That’s One World Center, aka the Freedom Tower, in the center of the picture. It was still under construction at the time. The tall building to its left is the Goldman Sachs Building in Jersey City. I believe it’s the tallest building in the state of New Jersey, or it was at the time I took the photo. The two cities are separated by the Hudson River, but you can’t see that from here, just the tall buildings.

* * * * *

That’s the space at 51 Pacific, some of it, and a bit of the alley. As I said, some people lived there. There’s a small room off the main room and there’s a loft above it that were used for sleeping. There’s a restroom which is elaborately embellished in a style that is common to such spaces:

A wall tile:

Back out in the main room at one time or another:

The building was demolished in 2015. Musaddiq is living in Florida. Greg Edgell is now in commercial real estate. But the scene lives on, in different forms.

[That’s red paint. “G” is for “Ghetto,” Musaddiq’s nom de guerre. But “G” is also for “Green,” and if you look closely you’ll see a “V” intersecting the top stroke of the “G” – Green Villain. Just what moved Musaddiq to put that on the floor at that time, who knows? Things happen in these spaces.]