So here's my favourite little quirky thing in New York, which to me is a perfect embodiment of New York's attitude, and a direct result of New York's street grid, arguably two of the city's most famous aspects…
To get started we really have to go waaaay back. Here’s a map of the city back when it was still called New Amsterdam. You can see a few streets starting to form, including one next to a defensive wall (no points for guessing what that street is called)
So New Amsterdam became New York and the city continued to expand out.
You can see a few grids appearing. The Delancey family had started making their own grid, but supported the crown during the revolution and so afterwards were exiled and their land given to New York.
The city had been planning on laying out a grid for future development for years, and a few options had been suggested and put forward, but nothing had really stuck, here’s one that could have been called the The Mangin–Goerck Plan.
Next thing they did was get this hot-shot John Randel Jr. in to survey the land. He was only 20 at the time, and got busy trudging up the island surveying everything and occasionally being arrested for trespassing.
Here he is posing and regretting the job he just took on.
Few things to note: The avenues at the edges of the island were deliberately but closer together, the view being that there would be more development along the waterfront rather than in the interior - as such, Madison Avenue and Park Avenue were added in later...
Also, there was initially no Central Park, which got added in a few decades later.
Anyway, once they’d decided to do this, they sent Randle out with a team to mark out every intersection. Here's one of Randals 'farm maps' where he could work out where the grid would need to go.
Randel's team would mark out every intersection with a little marble post inscribed with the street numbers.
Sometimes rocks made the erection of these markers impossible, so instead Randel and his team would blast a little hole in the rock, insert a metal bolt into the rock.
One of these metal bolts had to be used for the intersection of 66th st and 6th avenue.
It wouldn't be till much later that they allocated space for Central Park, and so the intersection was never made, which means... you guessed it: You can still find the original bolt.
Also, constructing the streets was pretty wild as well, whole hills were removed in order to get things level, and in a lot of cases, existing farm houses were left in some pretty awkward positions. Here’s the The Brennan farmhouse, at 84th and Broadway, in 1879 for instance.
As any New Yorker knows, when that happens, you start to get a lot of confusing little triangular blocks. The point at where Christopher Street, Grove Street, Washington Place, West 4th Street and 7th Avenue all crash into each other is one of those spots.
This intersection wasn’t always so complicated. Prior to 1914, 7th Avenue stopped at Greenwich street, however at about this time it was decided to extend 7th Avenue down to Varick Street in order to extend the subway. The plan was to go from this...
If you have a look closely, you'll see a building called the Voorhis gets almost completely destroyed.
The owner of the building, David Hess was, as you can imagine, PRETTY ANGRY about this plan and fought tooth and nail to get it overturned.
Sadly, for David Hess and his building, he failed and within a year the tenants had been removed and the entire plot of land the building stood on was seized by the city...
...or more accurately, *almost* the entire plot.
You see, David Hess’s heirs, having studied the survey, later discovered that the city had missed a small corner of the property, a diminutive triangle about the size of a large pizza slice, had somehow managed to fall just outside of that ruthless 7th avenue cut-through...
...and was technically still in the possession of the Hess Family.
If you look closely, you can just see it on the map, that very little point just near the 'S' of 'Subway' sitting there, left over, just beyond 54 Christopher st.
The city asked for the Hess Family to donate what was now surely the smallest plot of land in Manhattan to the city, however the Hess Family declined, and on July 27th, 1922 they installed a mosaic entirely covering their tiny bit of Manhattan real estate. The plaque read:
A final defiant fuck-you to the city, the plaque would have surely pleased David Hess, and for a while it appropriately came to be known as ‘The Triangle of Spite’.
Interestingly, with the installation of the mosaic covering the entire plot, the land was now effectively being used to inform people that the land should not be used, which I find a very neat thing indeed.
Some quick references:
There was an exhibition a while back called The Greatest Grid covering much of this. You can still find it here: http://thegreatestgrid.mcny.org/interactive-1811-plan …
There's a lot of articles on The Hess Triangle, but to mind @chris_whong's is still the best: https://chriswhong.com/open-data/in-search-of-hess-triangle-part-1/ …
Whoa. Okay, this thread really took off. Thanks for all the kind words!
Bonus cool facts for you: The original Native American inhabitants on the island had made a trail that went from one end of the island to the other, it was called the Wickquasgeck Trail...
...when the Dutch arrived they started using the trail as well and it eventually became an established road.
However, it wasn’t put into the 1811 commissioners plan as it wasn’t at all straight or aligned with the grid and so was to be removed, however in the end it was kept...
You now know it as Broadway, and if it hadn’t been retained, the triangular ‘bow-tie’ blocks it created where it crosses the grid would have never appeared.
Which means, you can (in part) blame the original inhabitants of Manhattan Island for the design of the of the Flatiron
A day and a 1000+ RT’s later... 😮🤭😃.
The kind words about this thread have been heartwarming and lovely and have inspired me to write more. Thank you all so much. More to come, watch this space.
Update: There's now a full write-up on @medium, with a few corrections, some extra info and a few gifs to compare those different maps. Enjoy!
You can follow @chazhutton.