If you’ve ever walked by the busy intersection of 7th Avenue South and Christopher Street, you’ve likely seen people snapping photos of the iconic corner-facing Village Cigars, but what you probably didn’t realize is that many of these eager photographers were standing on top of New York City’s smallest piece of private land.
The Hess Triangle sits in the sidewalk at the southwest corner of this Greenwich Village crossing, a small concrete slab with an imbedded mosaic that reads “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Purposes.”
Seventh Avenue was laid out as part of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, but terminated at Eleventh Street. Starting in 1910, the avenue was extended southward to connect with Varick Street in order to accommodate the construction of the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue subway line and link the Village with Tribeca. Over 300 buildings were demolished under Eminent Domain.
One of the razed buildings, a five-story apartment building called the Voorhis, belonged to David Hess. He fought the city in hopes of saving his building, but by 1914 all that remained of his property was a small triangle of sidewalk. The city assumed Hess would donate the tiny tract to the public sidewalk, but they were wrong. He took the city to court and was allowed to retain ownership of his prized triangle.
On July 27, 1922, Hess had his infamous mosaic message installed in his 500 square inches of land. In 1938, he sold the triangle to Village Cigars for $1,000, and the store has left it intact, a permanent reminder of city history and the resiliency (and stubbornness!) of New Yorkers.
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Neighborhoods : Greenwich Village