There are many good reasons to build a house: shelter, economics, or self-expression. But spite? In this article, originally published on Curbed as "Spite Houses: 12 Homes Created With Anger and Angst," Patrick Sisson delves into the "small but ignoble tradition" of people who constructed houses to enrage their neighbors, family members or the authorities.
What's not to love about a building called a "spite house?" In an essay in the New York Times, writer Kate Bolick discusses her dream of owning the Plum Island Pink House, a forlorn, decaying structure in Newbury, Massachusetts set in the middle of a salt marsh. The romantic, reclusive home stands alone for a reason; built by a recently divorced husband for his ex-wife as a condition of their separation, it's an exact duplicate of their shared home, just uncomfortably moored in the middle of remote wetlands and constructed without any running fresh water. The square loner is part of a small but ignoble tradition of spite houses, buildings created for malice instead of comfort meant to irritate or enrage neighbors, or occasionally piss off anyone unfortunate enough to be dwelling inside. Normally built to block a neighbor's light or access, they can be found as early at the 18th century. Here are some examples of homes or apartment that were built, or painted, out of anger.
Boston "Skinny House"
The Boston "skinny house" was supposedly built by a Civil war vet to get back at his brother, who had erected a massive home on land they were supposed to share. The smaller home was deliberately created to block the light going into the larger home.
Richardson Spite House
In 1882, clothier Hyman Sarner wanted to build homes on property he owned near Lexington Avenue in New York City, but noticed a small strip of land between the street and his proposed building. He made an offer to owner Joseph Richardson, who felt he was being low-balled and refused. Sarner went ahead anyway, building apartments with windows overlooking Richardson's land. This incensed Richardson who, in response, built a tiny, five-foot wide apartment building on the seemingly worthless parcel to piss off Sarner. The resulting building, which was torn down in 1915, was so narrow only one person at a time could use the stairs, and when reporters came to check out the oddity after it was built, one became caught inside and had to be rescued.
Tyler Spite House
When Dr. John Tyler discovered the government of Frederick, Maryland, planned to build a road that would cross through recently purchased property, Tyler wouldn't have it. Inspired by a law that said the city couldn't build a road if a substantial structure was in its way, he erected a foundation overnight to prevent the city from extending the road. The building is currently being used as a bed and breakfast.
O'Reilly Spite House
Francis O'Reilly built this 308-square-foot tiny home in 1908 when a neighbor refused his offer to buy his odd parcel of land in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It's currently occupied by an interior decorator.
Alameda Spite House
When the city of Alameda, California, appropriated land that Charles Froling intended to build upon, he took revenge by creating this odd-shaped building that looks more like a bookmark than a home. The 10-foot-wide home on Crist Street supposedly has the word "spite" inlaid on the front stoop.
Looking for more histories of hatred and housing? Check out the extended version of this article over at Curbed.