I love stories about noconformists. They make life interesting. Unlike anarchists, they do obey the law, often to their detriment, but they are usually still able to get their point across.
Such a man was David Hess, who owned a 5-story apartment building in the West Village in Lower Manhattan. From 1913 to 1916, New York City was exercising imminent domain to extend Seventh Avenue for eleven more blocks. Even though Hess fought the demolition of his building, it was eventually razed.
But the Hess family learned that the surveyors had screwed up and left a tiny triangle of land that by rights still belonged to them. They took it to court and won. The city actually had the nerve to ask them to donate the triangle to them as it was encroaching on the public sidewalk.
The family not only refused, but they installed the tilework pictured below. It says “property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes”. It’s a little nose thumbing at the municipality, and that mosaic is still to be found in the sidewalk to this very day.
The Hess family eventually sold the triangle to a cigar shop to the tune of $1,000. It has been sold several times since then, but it still is private property, and taxes are dutifully paid. If you would like to see the Hess Triangle, go to the corner of Christopher and Seventh Avenue, and the triangle is right in front of the cigar shop’s door. It’s nearly impossible not to trespass on this property when you enter or exit the store.
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