I was crossing the public plaza outside 909 Third Avenue in the mid-50s when I spotted this peculiar plaque embedded in the ground: "Private property. Permission to cross revocable at will." Huh? What gives? Has absolute power corrupted absolutely at ol' 909?
Then I came across this 1998 letter to the New York Times:
The F.Y.I. column puts an inappropriate anti-corporate spin on the "explanation" for the little bronze pavement markers that announce: "Property line. Permission to cross revocable at will." ("The Private Sector," Sept. 27)
The real reason for those markers, which you characterize as "snide," has nothing to do with the preservation of "corporate calm" or the exclusion of vagrants and criminals, as you assert. Putting the world on notice that crossing is by revocable permission is a simple necessity to insure that the ancient doctrine of adverse possession doesn't rob the landowner of his land.
Under a legal principle we inherited from pre-Revolutionary English law, open use of land without permission and against the interests of the landowner can gain the user actual ownership of the land after 10 years. By placing the little bronze markers where pedestrians walk, the owners of the private property adjoining the sidewalks confirm that they don't intend to cede that land to the public.
Interesting. But, honestly.