10 Houses Built Out of Spite
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
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
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
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
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
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.