A bit of history on the Wynwood Walls...

An aerial shot of the Wynwood Walls.Photo by Will Graham. Image courtesy of Wynwood Walls.

An aerial shot of the Wynwood Walls.Photo by Will Graham. Image courtesy of Wynwood Walls.

Over the course of just 10 years, a cluster of abandoned warehouses has blossomed into a thriving arts district

By Paul Laster

October 3, 2019

When real-estate developer and arts patron Tony Goldman first started acquiring New York real estate in SoHo in 1968, graffiti was something that property owners wanted to remove from a building—not add to it. However, the developer's thoughts on street art changed in 1984 when he acquired a property at Bowery and Houston, where then-rising star Keith Haring had famously painted a massive mural two years earlier. Rather than tear it down, he left it up for a few years, and restored it to its former glory in 2008 with dealer and street art fan Jeffrey Deitch, which would set the precedent for Goldman's next big transformation: Miami's Wynwood Walls.

Shepard Fairey working on a mural in 2009.

Photo by Martha Cooper. Image courtesy of Wynwood Walls.

Much as he did with SoHo, Goldman was one of the earliest developers to see potential in South Beach's historical Art Deco district. In 2009, he brought Deitch down to collaborate on another graffiti project during Art Basel Miami Beach that would dramatically change the face of Miami’s Wynwood community, from a desolate warehouse district to one of the city’s most popular public art attractions. “There would be no Wynwood without Wynwood Walls,” William D. Talbert, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, tells Architectural Digest. “Where I saw warehouses, Tony Goldman saw an outdoor art museum. That’s the difference between a visionary and the average Joe.”

It was Goldman’s son Joey who discovered the warehouse district in 2005, leading the family to buy the six buildings that compose Wynwood Walls in 2007. After opening a restaurant and giving space to a coffee shop and a bakery, Goldman started thinking creatively. He had a vision for the project—one that would totally transform the neighborhood—and he was willing to gamble big and work hard to realize his dream. “The real estate was inexpensive when we discovered it,” Jessica Goldman Srebnick, Tony’s daughter and current CEO of Goldman Properties, says. “It was a desolate part of the city with lots of empty warehouses and graffiti. We incorporated the DNA of the neighborhood to create a town center, by inviting international street artists to paint murals on the walls of the buildings surrounding a gravel parking lot.”

One of the only permanent murals features the project’s founder, Tony Goldman.

Photo by Martha Cooper. Image courtesy of Wynwood Walls.

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In December 2009, Goldman and Deitch began, to critical acclaim, with 12 artists ,including Futura 2000, Kenny Scharf, and Swoon. The project has evolved annually during Art Basel Miami Beach by rotating artists on the wall just as a gallery or a museum would do, with their works staying on view for one to three years. Graffiti, which was once considered an eyesore by many city governments, has turned Wynwood an international destination and a model for urban development that—according to Deitch—is being replicated around the world.

“What the Goldmans have done with Wynwood Walls is like the story of the phoenix—they’ve created a neighborhood out of the ashes,” says Miami mayor Francis Suarez. “They did it unconventionally, through creativity. When you have that kind of vision, you create places as opposed to buildings. They turned what was once an undesirable, impoverished, and crime-ridden area into one of the most iconic, most visited neighborhoods in the city.”