All about spite homes

When neighbours just can’t get along

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Spite house. A term used to describe a building constructed or modified to irritate neighbours or other parties with stake in the land. Shocked? Don’t be. Spite houses have a long history in North America—they even have their own Wikipedia page.

While spite homes are now rare—given modern building codes and zoning laws—they still get built and more importantly those that were built are great reminders of disputes gone bad.

Here’s a list of some of the more well-known spite homes (and businesses) in North America:

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1)    Half-a-home: Imagine living in a home with a fraction in the address? The homeowners at 54 ½ St. Patrick Street in Toronto, ON, don’t have to imagine. The Victorian row house was severed from its neighbor in the 1970s when the owners refused to sell to a developer, who later erected Village by the Grange, a set of condo units in a massive half-a-block development between Queen and Dundas streets.

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2)    Paint your stripes: Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is known for it’s very public stance against homosexuality. But rather than start a fight, a local non-profit opted instead for a more visual and long-term protest. A man associated with the non-profit, Planting Peace, purchased the home across the street from Westboro Baptist Church and then paid to have an enormous rainbow flag painted on the home. Now known as Equality House, the brightly painted home was finished and unveiled in March 2013, and is a resource centre for the LGBTQ community and a strong symbol of peace and positive change.

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3)    A little piece of a pie: Measuring just 55-inches across its narrowest point, this pie-shaped Seattle, WA, house was reputedly built to cut off access to a larger home on the street. According to the rumours, a neighour approached the land owner to purchase the plot in 1925, but at a ridiculously low price. The owner’s response was to build the tiny, awkwardly shaped home, now known as Montlake Spite House. (Heads up: the home recently sold for approximately $400k.)

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4)    Sandwich generation: John Hollensbury was tired of people loitering in the alley beside and behind his two home in Alexandria, Virginia (the white and red homes in the picture). In what can be considered both a creative and an expensive solution, Hollensbury built a 7-foot-wide and 25-foot-deep dwelling that strategically eliminated the alley between in homes (the blue home). While he initially built the structure just to close off the alley, it’s since been renovated and is now used as a residence.

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5)    Boston Beauty: The narrowest house in Boston, MA, measures just 10.5 feet across at its widest point (it narrows to 6.5 feet in certain places). The only entrance is down a small alley but the home offers four-storeys of urban living space. The rumour is that two brothers inherited a parcel of land, but when one brother went off to fight in the Civil War the other built a large home, leaving only a sliver of land. Upon returning from the war, the soldier didn’t cry over spilt milk but built a tall, skinny home that cut off air and sunlight to his brother’s expansive abode.

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6)    Streets need not interfere: Charles Froling had big plans for a parcel of land he bought in Alameda, California at the turn of the century. But quite quickly, the city expropriated a portion of his land to build streets. To spite the city, Froling built a 10-foot-wide and 54-foot-long home that abutted up against the street and an unsympathetic neighbour’s house.

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7)    Sam Kee’s revenge: The world’s shallowest commercial building is located in Vancouver, B.C. Between 1903 and 1913, city planners expropriated 24 feet of land from the Sam Kee Company (one of the wealthiest merchant’s in Chinatown in the early 1900s), so the firm decided to make the most out of the space. Today the space measures just under 5 feet deep with extra space achieved with the judicious use of pop-out commercial bay windows on the second floor space (that overhangs the sidewalk).

Have you come across a crazy or out of place home or business? Snap a pic on your smartphone or camera and send it to me or email me at romana.king@moneysense.rogers.com. I’d love to see what other Spite Houses (and businesses) exist out there.

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