June 14, 2014

Spite houses

written by Rosa Morgan

Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself, but when that oafish neighbor inspires your ire with a laundry list of offenses: blaring phonographs, shouts of obscenities, barking dogs, banging of walls and stomping of stairs at indecent hours, obnoxious drainpipes, rattling carriages, yards littered with empty bottles from a previous night's carousing, opium dens and brothels, what does the decent homeowner do?

Perhaps build a Spite House!
Or at least that's what some desperate souls have felt compelled to do.
Imagine going off to serve your country at war only to return to find your brother has built a large home on land the two of you inherited from your deceased father. Left with a slice of land and with revenge burning in his heart, the soldier built the four story Skinny House at 44 Hull Street, Boston with its narrowest interior point at 6.2 feet across. Blocking windows and views, brotherly love had no part in building this abode. 

Tiny Spite Shop in NYC at the corner of 161st and Melrose in New York City is another example of anger gone awry.When a tailor refused to sell his property to his neighbor, he instead built a four foot wide edifice which he used as his shop.

In 1882 Patrick McQuade, wished to build apartment houses on his property and offered $1000 to Joseph Richardson who owned the very narrow strip of land adjoining it. Richardson, who was a millionaire and had executed projects for the Vanderbilt and Gould families, and was responsible for the expansion of the original Grand Central Depot, was affronted by so paltry an offer and demanded $5,000. McQuade refused the price and proceeded with the construction of his apartment house.

In retaliation Richardson built The "Spite House" at Lexington and 43rd. It was 4 stories high, 104 feet long and 5 five feet wide with eight suites, two on each floor. Taking advantage of a building regulation clause that permitted corner houses to have bay window extensions, he was able to build rooms that were a little more than seven feet wide.

The halls throughout the house were so narrow only one person could pass at a time and all the furniture was lilliputian size. 

The wealthy Richardson being tight with his money, moved into one of the tiny apartments with his wife and rented out the other apartments for $500 a year. 

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