I write a lot about different forms of historical architecture on this blog, but today I want to share one of those unusual architectural styles from the dark side. Born out of anger, revenge, or pure stubbornness the Spite House is a home that was built for no other reason than to spite a neighbor or government that made the owner’s life hell.
To get their revenge they built these unusual homes on minuscule lots or in weird forms just to get under the skin of their neighbors. As whimsical as some of these buildings are the stories behind them are even more intriguing and frankly funny as hell.
What is a Spite House?
A spite house is a structure built with the primary purpose of annoying or inconveniencing someone else. These unique buildings are often constructed in response to a dispute or disagreement between neighbors, family members, or even entire communities. Spite houses come in various shapes and sizes, but they all share one common trait: they are architectural expressions of resentment.
History of Spite Houses
The concept of spite houses dates back centuries, with some of the earliest examples dating to the 18th century. During this time, property disputes and feuds were common, and individuals resorted to building spite houses as a form of revenge. These structures were designed not for practicality but to vex and irritate their intended targets, which they did quite effectively as you’ll see below.
As society evolved, spite houses continued to pop up, taking on various forms. While the reasons behind their construction remained rooted in petty spite, the designs grew increasingly imaginative and complex. Some spite houses were designed to block scenic views, others to steal sunlight, and some simply to create a visual eyesore. As long as you’re not the neighbor they are pretty hilarious.
1. The Skinny House (Boston, Massachusetts)
The Skinny House in Boston, Massachusetts, has earned its place in history as one of the narrowest homes in the United States. Standing at just 10.4 feet wide at its widest point, it was constructed in 1874 during a feud between two brothers.
The story is that there were two brothers who owned a plot of land, while one brother was away at war the other brother built a large home on the land that left the absent brother a very small portion. When the brother returned to find just a sliver of the property left for him he built the Skinny House to block his brother’s view and the light into his home. It last sold for $1.25M in 2021.
2. The Hollensbury Spite House (Alexandria, Virginia)
Located in Alexandria, Virginia, the Hollensbury Spite House is a fascinating piece of spiteful architecture. Built in 1830 by John Hollensbury, this structure is a mere 7 feet wide, 25 feet deep, and only 325 SF and has been dubbed “the narrowest home in America.”
Hollensbury lived in the home next door and was so annoyed at the noisy horse-drawn carriages and loiterers in the alley on the side of his home that he built this tiny house to block the foot traffic from passing through his property, and he succeeded in his endeavor. Today, this tiny house stands as an enduring symbol of one man’s determination to assert his property rights in a clever yet terribly spiteful way.
3. The Alameda Spite House (Alameda, California)
The Alameda Spite House, situated in Alameda, California, is a testament to Charles Froling’s determination to get revenge on his city and an unhelpful neighbor. Built in 1908, this spiteful structure is only 10 feet wide but astonishingly stretches 54 feet in length.
Froling inherited the plot of land that he intended to build his dream home on, but when the city came through and carved off a big chunk of his land for a wider street he turned to his neighbor asking for a small chunk of his land so he could still build a home. When he was turned down by the neighbor he set about getting his revenge on both the city and the neighbor.
The home was built to purposely block out as much sunlight from the neighbor and built right against the lot line, even overhanging the sidewalk to grab some extra square footage. Moral of the story? Don’t make the Froling family angry.
4. The Tyler Spite House (Fredericksburg, Virginia)
The Tyler Spite House is not nearly as small as the previous spite houses mentioned here and that’s because its construction wasn’t about views or neighborly disputes. Erected in 1832 by a man named John Tyler, this brick house was born from a property dispute. Legend has it that Tyler constructed the house to thwart the construction of a road that the city planned to build directly through his property.
Tyler discovered a local law that prevented the building of a road if work was in progress on a substantial building in the path of a proposed road. So he found a contractor who could begin work immediately and the night before the road crew was set to begin work the foundation was dug. The road crew arrived in the morning to find the foundation already under way on the new house and the road (which dead ends at Tyler’s Spite House) was abandoned.
The house still stands today as one man’s dedication to his property and resourcefulness to use the law to his favor.
5. The Sam Kee Building (Vancouver, Canada)
The Sam Kee Building, also known as the Jack Chow Building, is a remarkable example of a spiteful structure with a unique twist. Located in Vancouver, Canada, is it dubbed the “narrowest commercial building in the world.” It is a mere 4’ 11” wide on the first floor. In 1912 the city of Vancouver decided to widen Pender street in front of the Chinese businessman Chang Toy’s property, taking 24 feet of his land effectively (or so it was first believed) making conventional commercial use of the the remaining land impossible.
After Toy refused a neighbor’s offer to buy the remaining land, someone bet him that he couldn’t use the land for anything. Challenge accepted. Toy commissioned local architects to design a 2-story steel structure with a large basement that actually ran underneath the street.
The second story expands out to 6’ wide with the use overhanging bay windows across the expanse adding some extra space for the insurance office that currently inhabits the building.
The lesson of the spite house seems to be, never underestimate a determined property owner. These quirky structures have withstood the test of time, continuing to fascinate and entertain those who encounter them.
From the Skinny House in Boston to the Hollensbury Spite House in Virginia, each of these buildings carries a unique story of spite and defiance which is even more intriguing than the quirky designs they embody. Despite their often humorous origins, spite houses stand as testaments to the complex web of human emotions that shape our world, one peculiar building at a time
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.