The smallest piece of Manhattan real estate exists on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. It’s so tiny that you may have walked right by it without noticing. In fact, you may have actually stepped on it.
However, the most interesting part of this itsy bitsy property is how it came to be and what it now represents.
For a moment, let’s go back to 1913. At the time, the City of New York was preparing to widen existing streets and pave new ones for a subway extension, and, as The New York Times reported, “property owners and residents within the line of Seventh Avenue extension from Greenwich Avenue to Varick Street are preparing for the demolition of buildings within the condemned area.” In total, 11 blocks and their buildings were “ruthlessly cut through” for this endeavor, including the five-story Voorhis apartment building owned by David M. Hess. Hess didn’t want to give up his land, but the city eventually won the battle, citing eminent domain.
However, after the job was completed, Hess’s heirs discovered that a small triangular plot (only 27.5 feet by 27.5 feet by 25.5 feet) had been overlooked in the survey and the family proceeded to set up its notice of possession, according to a June 2, 1928, article by Ross Duff Whytock of The Hartford Courant.
The city asked the family to donate the seemingly insignificant piece of property, but the headstrong Hess family refused to sell — a decision it stuck to for decades. Eventually, New York’s Yeshiva University obtained the triangle as well as the property around it, later selling the whole thing to the 70 Christopher Realty Corporation in 1995.
However, passers-by can still read the defiant message imprinted in cracked tile in the sidewalk’s concrete by Hess: “PROPERTY OF THE HESS ESTATE WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN DEDICATED FOR PUBLIC PURPOSES.”
In a way, it’s the perfect representation of New York City. It’s unique, it’s probably worth way too much, and it’s essentially a metaphorical middle finger.