On your next visit in Manhattan, go to the corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street. You’ll be standing on the smallest piece of property in New York City. Hess Triangle is a tiny sliver of real estate in the shape of a triangle, measuring just 25.5 inches at the base and 27.5 inches on its sides.
This quirky property came about as a surveying mistake in the middle of a heated eminent domain battle.
In 1910, the City of New York slated nearly 300 buildings for expropriation and demolition to extend the IRT Broadway - Seventh Avenue Subway Line. David M. Hess, a landlord, owned the Voorhis, a five-story apartment building located within the path of the planned subway extension. He refused the payout and challenged the condemnation action. After years of legal battling, in 1914, the City won and the Voohis building was demolished.
The survey of the property, however, was discovered later to be inaccurate. This resulted in the Hess estate retaining a tiny triangle of land. When the mistake was discovered, the City asked the family to donate the leftover parcel, but the Hess family, still smarting after losing their legal case, refused.
To make it perfectly clear to the City, on July 27, 1922, the Hess family installed a mosaic proclaiming in capital letters: “PROPERTY OF THE HESS ESTATE WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN DEDICATED FOR PUBLIC PURPOSES.” Taxes were assessed for $100.
Ownership of the Hess Triangle has changed hands over the years, but the mosaic remains as a testament to the importance of property in the private and public spheres.
It’s also a good remainder to hire counsel well versed in eminent domain proceedings, make sure your surveyor is experienced, and double check your legal descriptions before you record.
To read about other real estate holdouts, check out the following article for a great story on the “Seattle Steadfast” house:
More on the Hess Triangle: