Property of Hess Estate ... has never been dedicated for public purposes
May 31, 2020 3:43 PM   Subscribe

If you've walked past the corner of 7th Avenue South and Christopher Street in New York City, you might have noticed a little triangular mosaic in front of Village Cigars (Google streetview) that reads "Property of Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes ▽". This is the tiny "spite triangle" that marks a century-old grudge against New York City (Mentalfloss). At 500 square inches, it is the smallest piece of private property in the city (Atlas Obscura). Bonus: 10 NYC Streets from the Original Dutch Colonial Street Grid (Untapped Cities).
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are similar signs in Philadelphia. As a kid I always wondered about the "Space within building lines not dedicated" sign embedded in middle of the sidewalk of the Lit Brothers department store in my neighborhood.
posted by Rob Rockets at 4:34 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]


I love hearing about spite houses and things like this
posted by Canageek at 4:35 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Can any lawyer remind me what the common law term is where a neighbor cannot build and cut off sunlight from neighboring property if that sunlight had been unrestricted for a certain period?
posted by Fukiyama at 4:59 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


ancient light
posted by scruss at 5:02 PM on May 31 [10 favorites]


I guess I'm a bigger jerk than Hess or something, because I would have tried to put a solid cast-iron triangular pillar there instead (well, cast-iron back then. Now it'd be solid steel).
posted by aramaic at 5:18 PM on May 31 [9 favorites]


Extra bonus links: Spite House on Wikipedia, with about 20 examples. 12 examples from Curbed. "Spite" search on Atlas Obscura, with some example homes, and the Hess Triangle.

And Ancient Lights from The Free Dictionary's legal dictionary.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:52 PM on May 31 [4 favorites]


You know, I'm finding tales of spiteful assholes less charming of late.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:17 PM on May 31 [24 favorites]


Wickquasgeck Street doesn't quite roll off the tongue as Broadway does.
posted by jmauro at 6:51 AM on June 1


Looking at the links, especially @Rob Rockets' item about Philadelphia, I'm thinking it's pretty small potatoes in the annals of dickishness, but an apt reminder of something or other about our current political, economic, public health, and social situation.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 8:10 AM on June 1


Wickquasgeck Street doesn't quite roll off the tongue as Broadway does.
I would guess that the Munsee speakers who originally used the term didn't have too much trouble with it. (The road took its name from a band who lived up around Yonkers.)
posted by neroli at 9:06 AM on June 1


I bet even most New Yorkers wouldn't have a problem with it. Half the stuff around here are (an Anglicization of) First Nations words. The only ones that are even half way hard are the recent ones where they depreciated the imperialist name and reverted to it's traditional name.
posted by Mitheral at 10:45 AM on June 1


from filthy light thief's link:
The doctrine of ancient lights has not been adopted in the United States since it would greatly hinder commercial and residential growth and the expansion of towns and cities.

It sure would. It would however encourage density but this is a tangent for another thread.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:22 AM on June 1


It should be subdivided between all us Hess's of the world. I want my private atom of NY sidewalk.
posted by joeyh at 5:00 PM on June 1


> It should be subdivided between all us Hess's of the world. I want my private atom of NY sidewalk.

I've heard of that somewhere. Slice it into such small legal slices that it can never be put back together again, making it functionally useless for any kind of development. Is that ringing bells with anyone else?
posted by Leon at 6:51 PM on June 1


That's kinda what Cards Against Humanity was trying to do with their border wall parcel?
posted by aramaic at 6:53 PM on June 1


That could be it, thanks.
posted by Leon at 7:33 PM on June 1


I've heard of that somewhere. Slice it into such small legal slices that it can never be put back together again, making it functionally useless for any kind of development. Is that ringing bells with anyone else?
A few years ago, Mark Zuckerberg tried to buy some land in Hawaii. The land in question had been divided - not physically, but legally - between so many people over the decades that there were hundreds of people who each owned a minuscule fraction of a share. There were also a few people that between them owned 51%, giving them the right to sell the property, so long as they give the minority owners their fair share of the proceeds.

They attempted to do so. Part of this process is filing legal action that says, in effect, "Hey, everyone who owns a chunk of this property! We're selling! Come 'n get your money!"

This was reported in the news media as "Mark Zuckerberg sues native Hawaiians to force them to sell their land to him".

I have seen tales of similar issues, especially in the rural south. A patriarch of the family leavse a 1/3 share of his estate to each of his sons, one of whom lost 50% of his share in the divorce and left the other 50% to be divided among his four cousins, and then another son left his entire estate to be divided evenly among his three cousins and their seven children, and so on...fast forward a hundred years and you have a vague understanding that this big chunk of land belongs to this clan of people, but no firm records of who exactly owns what. This makes mortgages, subdivisions, or a straight-up cashout difficult or impossible.
posted by Hatashran at 8:07 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Not just in the US South. That's basically the setup for Dickens' Bleak House.

On a personal level, some idle googling a couple weeks ago turned up an 1880s British Raj court case involving my grandfather's grandfather's father. It seemed HIS grandfather had left his land to his two sons. One bought out the other, paying an annuity until his death, after which his son continued paying until the uncle (one of the two original inheritors) died. The case was about whether the next generation was supposed to keep paying, or whether the uncle /great-uncle had only a life interest in the property.

My grandfather's grandfather's father won that case, but his grandson (my great grandfather) died intestate, so my 16 year old grandfather and his widowed mother were evicted by his half-brother who inherited under primogeniture. The house and land are apparently still owned by that branch of the family; my parents incidentally met the current owners several months ago, who were super nice and invited my parents over, but my dad refused, probably because he'd grown up hearing about his Snidely Whiplash uncle and was very wary of being accused of wanting the property.

This convoluted mess likely would never have happened if not for the Raj and Anglo obsession with property rights. My great*5 grandfather died pre-1857; the 1880s court documents retroactively apply British law to a pre-British inheritance. My grandfather was evicted in the dying days of the Raj/early days of Partition, and there were definitely bigger issues on everyone's mind.

Not that communal inheritance is always preferable, but the idea that land can be divided into every tinier shares (or that a country can be cleaved by a line drawn in the sand) isn't the only model.
posted by basalganglia at 12:46 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Found when looking for other examples of selling small plots of land: Become a Scottish Laird for £30 (Straight Dope coverage of micro-land sales from 2011)

If you don't like the term "spite house," holdout (Wikipedia) is a more generic term.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:22 AM on June 2


« Older Christo has died   |   Leontyne Price's goodbye - one of the greatest... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments