Photo credit: IAmNotAStalker.com
For our New York readers who like to walk the beautiful and interesting streets of the West Village, have you ever noticed a small triangle outside of the Village Cigars shop? To be honest, we’ve passed the mosaic sign on 110 Seventh Avenue South but never really stopped to read what it said or to think if there was any history attached. That’s why we found this particular story interesting.
The small triangular mosaic set into the pavement is just 3ft in front of the cigar shop. It is made out of faded black-and-white tiles andthe triangle measures roughly 2 sq ft. If you look closely you can see that it reads “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Purposes.” According to Andrew Berman, president of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, it is “A cryptic message that alludes to a story that has come to embody the struggle for personal identity in this area.”
If you’ve heard some of the Village’s history, you might know about Stonewall, speak-easys, and many of the famous authors that drank at local pubs. As Berman commented, the Village has always been “progressive, forward-thinking and dynamic.
The Village had become culturally diverse by the late 19th Century and without all of the tall buildings, one can imagine that it was an intimate place to live. According to reports, where the cryptic triangle now lies stood an apartment block, called Vorhes, built by Philadelphia native David Hess, who had died in 1907.
Dramatic change had come to the streets of New York by the early 20th century. Penn Station was opened with a rail tunnel under the Hudson River, and more and more people were coming to the city each day. Expansion plans included extending both the Seventh Avenue and the subway line that ran beneath it southward in order to improve commuting connections between Lower Manhattan and Midtown, the city’s two major commercial hubs.
To complete the project, 253 structures would be torn down to accommodate the thoroughfare! Similar to today, this happened through New York City’s eminent domain order.
Hess was not happy with these changes and considered it to be bureaucratic overreach. Hess and his family refused to sell and over the next few years the family fought valiantly against the order. Sadly, by 1913 the Hess family had exhausted all legal avenues and the apartment block was demolished shortly after. The Seventh Avenue extension would pass directly through where lot 55 had once stood.
Since the city blocks in that area can have an odd shape and size, there were often irregular pieces of land. “One point often overlooked is that there were many small, irregular-sized lots left over after the destruction – but the Hess Triangle was the smallest,” Berman said. In a somewhat humorous twist of fate a surveying mistake meant that a portion of lot 55 had survived, and was still legally owned by the Hess Estate.
No one really knows what happened next, except after a few additional years of court battles and the Hess family refusing to give up even that small triangle of property, the City of New York had called upon the Hess Estate to pay the accumulated property taxes on the remaining portion of the lot. But Frank Hess, David Hess’ son, claimed to be unaware any portion of the lot still remained in his family’s name.
In tribute, on July 26, 1922, the mosaics were installed and records show that the property was assessed $100 in property taxes. The Hess Triangle was eventually sold to Village Cigars in 1938 for a steep $1,000 (which, after adjusting for inflation, would equal around $17,500 today), and it has been preserved exactly as it was ever since.
Even more amazing is that with all of the snow, ice, heat, and people walking all over the mosaic, it still remains as a tribute to the spirit of the Village.