How The Hess Family Bested New York City in a Eminent Domain Battle in 1922

Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes.
Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes.

Our friends at This Hidden City recently published the brief history behind a famous, yet mostly unknown piece of land located in Manhattan's West Village, Hess Triangle.

It is the outcome of a conflict between the city, and the estate of David Hess, a Philadelphia landlord, beginning in 1912. At that time, the city claimed eminent domain on Hess' 5-storey Voorhis apartment building (named after judge John Van Voorhis' family), so as to expand, both, the IRT Subway, as well as 7th Ave. The family was furious, but discovered that a section of land was left off a corner of the plot, and filed a notice of possession, which they obtained. The city petitioned the family to give the land back, but they refused, and had the tiled plaque installed in 1922.

It was a way for the family to "stick it to the man" long before that became popular in the 60s.

In 1940, the owners of the tiny triangle finally sold the "world's smallest property" to the cigar store for a grand, at $1.60 per square centimeter (about $2 a square inch). It has seen better days, as it is now cracked beyond repair, but still a sight to see when walking by.

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