One of my favorite bits of unusual New York City history is located on the sidewalk in front of West Village’s iconic Village Cigars store. It’s pretty well known, but I’m going to re-tell it because it’s such a great story.
Set into the sidewalk is a small triangle (see my sneaker for size comparison), with the mysterious message: “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Purposes.”
In 1910, the area around Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue was being widened by the city. Over 300 buildings were condemned and razed under Eminent Domain laws, including a 5-story apartment building called The Voorhis belonging to David Hess.
Hess fought the city fiercely to save his building but lost, and by 1914, this small triangle was all that was left of his property. Thinking he’d been suitably beaten down, the city asked Hess to voluntarily donate the minuscule triangle for use as part of the public sidewalk – but Hess refused, and had this mosaic installed on July 27, 1922. Though it inevitably became part of the sidewalk anyway, anyone who walked over the triangle couldn’t help but be reminded of Hess’ battle.
The sign hasn’t been chanced since. In 1938, Hess sold the triangle of land to the cigar store for $1,000, and thankfully, the mosaic was left alone, cracks and all. I love seeing it walking through the Village, a reminder that sometimes the little guys win in ways you can never imagine.
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