10 Houses Built Out of Spite

The "Skinny House" in the North End of Boston is an extremely narrow but surprisingly tall spite house.
The "Skinny House" in the North End of Boston is an extremely narrow but surprisingly tall spite house.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Your town probably has an architectural oddity or two; a building locals love to point out to visitors. But the buildings in this list are no whimsical creations—they were borne of pure spite. Some were constructed to block a nearby house's view or feed a family feud, while others were made to thwart city planners. Here are 10 spite houses that prove that though good fences make good neighbors, vengeful construction makes for way better neighborhood history.

1. The Hollensbury Spite House // Alexandria, Virginia

When most people want to keep people away from their property, they build a simple fence. But that wasn’t enough for John Hollensbury. The cranky brickmaker built this 7-foot-wide house in 1830 to prevent people from using the alley next to his home, as he was miffed that wagon traffic kept nicking his walls.

2. The Tyler Spite House // Frederick, Maryland

A house stands at the end of a road
The Tyler Spite House blocked the creation of a road.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

John Tyler, an ophthalmologist, hastily built this 1814 mansion to prevent the town from building a road through his property. A local law stipulated that the city couldn't build a road if a building was being constructed in the path of said road, so the doctor quickly ordered that a foundation be poured for this mansion.

3. The Virginia City Spite House // Virginia City, Nevada

In the 1950s, a miner decided to build himself a house in downtown Virginia City, Nevada. But his charming white abode did not prove to be a peaceful sanctuary. One of his enemies later purchased the empty lot next door and constructed his own home less than a foot away, blocking his view and cutting off the ventilation on that side of the house.

4. The Old Spite House // Marblehead, Massachusetts

A vintage postcard of a wooden house
A 1912 postcard of The Old Spite House.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

According to local legend, this unusual abode was borne of brotherly ill will. One brother, angry about the way their land was divided up, built his section of the house in such a way that it blocked his sibling's view.

5. The “Skinny House” // Boston, Massachusetts

Another disputed inheritance between brothers resulted in Boston’s Skinny House. One brother built a home that reportedly took up more than his fair share of the land. When the second brother returned from serving in the military, he built a skinny house to block the sunlight from his brother's building. The resulting architectural oddity doesn’t even have a front door, meaning people have to squeeze in through a side door that looks more like a window.

6. The Sam Kee Building // Vancouver, British Columbia

Pedestrians walking toward a thin building
The Sam Kee Building is a remarkably skinny commercial space.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Vancouver officials decided to widen Pender Street, their plan took a big bite out of the plot of land owned by the Sam Kee Company—without properly compensating Chang Toy, the company’s owner. In 1913, Toy built a commercial building on the narrow sliver of ground he still retained. The resulting structure is only 6 feet wide. Extra space is achieved with pop-out windows on the second floor, which overhang the sidewalk.

7. The Alameda Spite House // Alameda, California

There are two origin theories for this beloved Northern California landmark. One purports a man named Charles Froling built the house after Alameda attempted to claim his land to construct a street, while another chocks it up to sibling rivalry. The unusual house is still occupied, and thanks to a stained glass window emblazoned with the words “Spite House,” it wears its vengeful history proudly.

8. The Cambridge Spite House // Cambridge, Massachusetts

A small wooden house with green trim
It looks like a shed, but this tiny building is actually a spite house.
ArnoldReinhold, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

What is it about spiteful landowners in Massachusetts? In 1908, Francis O'Reilly tried to persuade his neighbor to purchase his small parcel of land. When the neighbor declined, O’Reilly constructed an 8-foot-wide abode on the meager plot. The interior designer who now occupies the space has said that the building is like a three-dimensional billboard for her work.

9. The Freeport Spite House // Freeport, New York

John Randall, a developer, did not support his town's attempt to implement a grid system. To thwart the plan, he built a Victorian house on a triangular plot of land. Aerial views of this Long Island town show that the streets had to loop around the large plot, destroying their symmetry.

10. The Plum Island Spite House // Plum Island, Massachusetts

A pink house beneath a full moon at dusk
The lonely Plum Island Spite House, without a neighbor in sight.
Lee Wright, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite this house’s pink hue, its past is far from rosy. Local lore says that in 1925, a woman agreed to divorce her husband on one condition: He had to build her a replica of the home they shared. The man agreed, but rather than kindly complying with her wish, he built the house atop a distant salt marsh, where she wouldn’t even have access to fresh running water.

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The Tallest Cemetery Monument in New Orleans Was Built Out of Spite

baldeaglebluff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
baldeaglebluff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Spite has motivated many construction projects, from a 40-foot-tall fence in California to an 8-foot-wide home in Massachusetts. But when it comes to pettiness, few structures can beat Moriarty Monument in New Orleans's Metairie Cemetery. Reaching 80 feet high, the memorial to Mary Moriarty was an excuse for her widower to show off his wealth to everyone who rejected him.

New Orleans is famous for its cemeteries, which feature above-ground mausoleums. The soil in the region is too wet and swampy to dig traditional 6-foot graves, so instead, bodies are interred at the same level as the living. The most impressive of these graveyards may be Metairie Cemetery on Metairie Road and Pontchartrain Boulevard. Built in 1872, it lays claim to the most above-ground monuments and mausoleums in the city, the tallest of which is the Moriarty Monument.

The granite tomb was commissioned by Daniel A. Moriarty, an Irish immigrant who moved to New Orleans with little money in the mid-1800s. It was there he met his wife, Mary Farrell, and together they started a successful business and invested their new income into real estate. The couple was able to build a significant fortune this way, but Moriarty struggled to shake off his reputation as a poor foreigner. The city's upper class refused to accept him into their ranks—something Moriarty never got over. After his wife died in 1887, he came up with an idea that would honor her memory and hopefully tick off the pretentious aristocrats at the same time.

By 1905, he had constructed her the grandest memorial he could afford. In addition to the towering steeple, which is a topped with a cross, the site is adorned with four statues at the base. These figures represent faith, hope, charity, and memory, while the monument itself is meant to be a not-so-virtuous middle finger to all those who insulted its builder.

Gerard Schoen, community outreach director for Metairie Cemetery, told WGNO ABC, “The reason Daniel wanted his property to be the tallest was so his wife could look down and snub every 'blue blood' in the cemetery for all eternity." More than a century later, it still holds that distinction.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]