Spite triangle

On a sidewalk in New York City is a triangle mosaic about 70cm wide. It is perhaps the smallest parcel of private land in the city, and it exists entirely because of spite.

Hess Triangle, New York
Bogframe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in February I wrote about spite houses. People built these houses on improbably narrow or awkwardly shaped plots, usually to get revenge on annoying neighbours.

The plots in question were usually created by incomplete land requisitions. The city obtains land for a new street or amenity – the owner doesn’t usually have a choice in the matter – but the city doesn’t take it all. It leaves an unusable slice, which the owner decides to use anyway. A spite house might be a metre and a half wide so that it can fit on this absurd plot – but that’s enough for a little daft vengeance.

Around a hundred and ten years ago, the New York City government was expanding Seventh Avenue. There are a lot of famous buildings on this street – Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden – and it intersects with Broadway at Times Square. Even in the 1910s, having land on Seventh Avenue was a big deal. So you can imagine how the estate of David Hess felt when its apartment building was demolished to make the street wider. Time to sue!

After the legal battles settled down, the Hess estate had lost its building and the land. But a surveying error revealed that it hadn’t lost all of it. One tiny triangle, 65cm by 70cm by 70cm, remained in the possession of the estate. It was right in the middle of the new sidewalk.

The government asked the estate to remedy this error by donating the leftover parcel of land… and the estate refused. Instead, in 1922, they added a mosaic, asserting their ownership. The Hess triangle has changed ownership through the years, but it remains on the books as perhaps the smallest parcel of land in New York City.

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

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