The Hess Triangle Is The Smallest Piece Of Real Estate In NYC: Not Every Man Has A Price
New York City is in a constant state of change. Neighborhoods that were once ghettoized and dangerous are now the exclusive domain of the super wealthy. Giant glass and steel towers now rise up from what was once untamed swampland. Perhaps that’s why we are so comforted by those few tokens of the past that remain. Seeing old Polish ladies still sitting on their stoops gossiping in Williamsburg, Dim Sum at Nom Wa in Chinatown or Katz’s Deli.
But one of New York’s greatest monuments to iconoclasm has staunchly resisted more than a century of aggressive change. And it is also the smallest single, privately owned, piece of real estate in the city. Behold: Hess’ Triangle.
Back in 1910, a man named David Hess girded himself for battle against the city of New York—a force that has ground many a worthy adversary under its heavy heel. Hess’ five story apartment building was slated for demolition in order to extend and widen what is now Seventh Avenue. Hess dug in. The city fought back with eminent domain. Hess scoffed in their general direction. But as the years passed, like water on a stone, the city wore away at Hess’ resolve and, ultimately, he was unable to keep his building. By 1914, all that was left of Hess’ property was a tiny triangle spanning about 500 square inches on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street.
It was a geographically small, yet metaphorically huge victory. So, it must have come as a grave insult when the city then asked Hess to donate his triangle to become part of the sidewalk. And, as we would have hoped, Hess staunchly refused. He took the city to court over it—and won (slow clap).
A few years later, a cigar store went up on that same corner and Hess commissioned a mosaic that is as subtle as a battle with City Hall. It read: “Property Of The Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Use”. Well played Mr. Hess, well played.
In 1938, Hess, perhaps having mellowed with age, sold his “estate” to the cigar store for $1000. That is how it remains to this day. Thank you Mr. Hess for being one of New York’s first resisters of gentrification.
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