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Hess Triangle: the smallest piece of private property in New York City

3 min read

New York City is full of unusual plots of land left over from various construction projects, but none as small and emblematic as the Hess Triangle, a private property barely larger than a pizza slice.
The small plot of land located outside of Village Cigars at Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street has got a big story behind it—it involves a headstrong landlord, the 7th Avenue subway extension, and the City of New York.

Its story began in 1910 when nearly 300 buildings in the area were slated to be torn down to widen streets and construct the new subway line, including the Voorhis, a 5-storey apartment building owned by businessman David Hess.
He and his family fought the decision, but by 1913, they had exhausted all legal options and had to watch their property be demolished. However, in 1928, while checking property papers, Hess’s heirs discovered that the city had neglected to seize a tiny corned of Plot 55, and quickly filed a notice of possession for it.
That’s how the Hess Triangle, the smallest piece of real estate in NYC, came to be.

Measuring only 0.0000797113 acres, the Hess Triangle is barely larger than a slice of pizza, and It would also be invisible to the naked eye, if not for the black and white mosaic decorating it, which reads “Property of the Hess Estate, which has never been dedicated for public purposes.”
Soon after being legally claimed by the Hess Estate, the city of New York had the gall to ask the family to donate the small plot to the public, but they decided to keep it as a symbol of resistance and defiance.

“It’s the little guy fighting city hall,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

In 1938, the Hess Triangle was sold to the adjacent Village Cigars store, for $1,000.
That may not sound like a lot, but considering the size of the plot, and inflation, the tiny piece of property would be worth about $17,000 in today’s money. That’s $68,000 per square meter, which actually makes the Hess Triangle not only the smallest, but one of the most expensive pieces of private property in New York City!

Some claim that the Hess Triangle is still owned by Village Cigars, but according to Wikipedia, it was sold to Yashiva University, which in turn sold it to 70 Christopher Realty Corporation, in 1995.
Either way, all owners chose to keep the iconic mosaic intact and, although it is walked all over by pedestrians, it serves as a constant reminder that Hess was not easily conquered.

Images from web – Google Research