Back in the 1910s, a great swath was being cut diagonally across the Village, to extend and widen Seventh Avenue below Greenwich Avenue and to allow the IRT subway to move farther downtown. Using the power of eminent domain, the city decisively condemned and demolished 300 pieces of property, including a five-story residential building called the Voorhis Apartment, owned by a Mr. David Hess.
Somehow, when all was said and done, Mr. Hess was left owning a small triangle of land. To add insult to injury, the city wanted him to “donate” the parcel, which would be incorporated into a new sidewalk. Hess refused. He defied municipal bullying and went to court to assert his rights. By the time the case was settled, “The D. H. Hess Estate of Philadelphia” was the obstinate owner of approximately 500 square inches of useless surface area.
But they made the most of it (symbolically speaking) when, on July 27, 1922, workers used black and yellow tile to create a defiant shoe-level inscription — which still exists today in its cracked, worn and eloquent state.
This proud plot remained the smallest piece of property in New York City well into the 1930s. Figuring the point had been made, the estate sold the tiny triangle to the owners of the cigar store in 1938 for $1,000. Today it remains a curious geometric reminder of a case where private property faced off against “progress” and came out the (admittedly modest) winner.