Spite houses

Some people will go to absurd lengths to get revenge on their neighbours – including building houses purely out of spite.

Alameda spite house
Elf, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Before modern zoning regulations prevented many of the ways that bad neighbours can mess with each other, there was the spite house. It was a very expensive and petty way to get revenge, but – if life has taught me nothing else – there will always be someone rich enough and petty enough to make the absurd happen.

The spite house pictured above, from Alameda, California, is a good example. A guy named Charles Froling inherited a plot of land and planned to build a house there. The city requisitioned most of the land to build Crist Street, leaving only a narrow slice of land between him and a neighbour. Froling had something against the city as well as the neighbour, although I’m unclear exactly what that neighbour did to deserve this odd revenge. Sources describe the neighbour as unsympathetic to his plight, so perhaps Froling tried to recruit him in opposition to the proposed street?

In any case, the street went ahead, and Froling decided to go ahead and build his house anyway – right up to the property line in every direction on this narrowest of narrow strips. The house is two storeys high, 16 metres long, and just 3 metres wide. It completely blocked the neighbour’s view, so Froling got his revenge. And now, around a hundred years later, people still live in the darn thing.

This is not even the narrowest spite house out there. The Skinny Building in Pittsburgh is three storeys and 1.57 metres wide; the Sam Key Building in Vancouver is 1.5 metres wide at its narrowest and 1.83 metres on the second floor. Both were created from the leftover bits of land after a street was widened.

Skinny Building
Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Sam Kee Building
Bobanny, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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