A spite house is a building constructed or substantially modified to irritate neighbors or any party with land stakes. Spite houses may create obstructions, such as blocking out light or blocking access to neighboring buildings, or can be flagrant symbols of defiance. Because long-term occupation is at best a secondary consideration, spite houses frequently sport strange and impractical structures.
Spite houses are considerably more rare than spite fences. This is partially attributable to the fact that modern building codes often prevent the construction of houses likely to impinge on neighbors' views or privacy, but mostly because fence construction is far cheaper than home construction. There are also similar structures known as Spite wall or Blinder wall.
- In 1716, Thomas Wood, a sailmaker, built a house in Marblehead, Massachusetts, that subsequently became known as the Old Spite House. According to one theory, it was inhabited by two brothers who occupied different sections, would not speak to each other, and refused to sell to the other. Another explanation is that the ten foot (3 meter) wide house, just tall enough to block the view of two other houses on Orne Street, was built because its owner was upset about his tiny share of his father's estate and therefore decided to spoil his older brothers' view. The Old Spite House is still standing and occupied.
- In 1806, Thomas McCobb, heir to his father's land and shipbuilding business, returned home to Phippsburg, Maine, from sea to discover that his stepbrother Mark had inherited the family "Mansion in the Wilderness". Upset about his loss, McCobb built a house directly across from the McCobb mansion to spite his stepbrother. The National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey photographed and documented the 1925 move of the McCobb Spite House by barge from Phippsburg to Deadman's Point in Rockport, Maine.
- In 1830, John Hollensbury's home in Alexandria, Virginia, was one of two houses that directly bordered an alley that attracted an annoying amount of horse-drawn wagon traffic and loiterers. To prevent people from using the alleyway, Hollensbury constructed a 7-foot (2.1 m) wide, 25-foot (7.6 m) deep, 325-square-foot (30.2 m2), two-story home using the existing brick walls of the adjacent homes for the sides of the new house. The brick walls of the Hollensbury Spite House living room have gouges from wagon-wheel hubs, and the house is still standing and occupied.
- In 1839 or 1840, Edgar Allan Poe, in his story "The Business Man", wrote the following humorous passage in the voice of Peter Proffit, a man who imagines himself a legitimate businessman although the reader realizes that he is a con man. Proffit's attempted scam in this passage is to build a spite house and extort his neighbors to pay him to tear it down. (He calls this line of business 'the Eye-Sore trade'.) "Whenever a rich old hunks, or prodigal heir, or bankrupt corporation, gets into the notion of putting up a palace, there is no such thing in the world as stopping either of them, and this every intelligent person knows. The fact in question is indeed the basis of the Eye-Sore trade. As soon, therefore, as a building project is fairly afoot by one of these parties, we merchants secure a nice corner of the lot in contemplation, or a prime little situation just adjoining or tight in front. This done, we wait until the palace is half-way up, and then we pay some tasty architect to run us up an ornamental mud hovel, right against it; or a Down-East or Dutch Pagoda, or a pig-sty, or an ingenious little bit of fancy work, either Esquimau, Kickapoo, or Hottentot. Of course, we can't afford to take these structures down under a bonus of five hundred per cent upon the prime cost of our lot and plaster. Can we? I ask the question. I ask it of business men. It would be irrational to suppose that we can."
- In 1880, Adam Schilling owned a tract of 80 acres (32 ha) adjoining the town of Hiawatha, Kansas. Schilling sold three-quarters of an acre of this land, on which a house eventually was built and became owned by James Falloon. Together, the 80 acres (320,000 m2) were well-suited to add to the town of Hiawatha, but Falloon refused to sell his three-quarters of an acre at the low price Schilling offered. To spite his neighbor, Schilling then built a cheap tenement house on his own property 13 feet (4.0 m) from Falloon's with the "idea of rendering Falloon's home obnoxious and unendurable to Falloon and family" by renting to people Falloon might find objectionable.
- The Richardson Spite House in New York City at Lexington Avenue and 82nd Street was built in 1882 and demolished in 1915. It was four stories tall, 104 feet (31.7 m) wide, and only five feet (1.5 m) deep. Joseph Richardson, the owner of the plot, built it after the owner of an adjacent plot, Hyman Sarner, unsuccessfully tried to purchase the land. Sarner considered the plot useless by itself and offered only $1000; Richardson demanded $5000. After the deal fell through, Richardson had an apartment building constructed on his land. It was a functional (albeit impractical) apartment building with eight suites, each consisting of three rooms and a bath.
- In 1925, according to one common story, a Montlake, Seattle, Washington neighbor made an insultingly low offer for a tiny slice of adjoining land. Out of spite for the low offer, the builder built an 860-square-foot (80 m2) house that blocked the neighbors' open space. However, there are other stories about how the house came to be, making its origins murky. The house is 55 inches (1.4 m) wide at the south end, and 15 feet (4.6 m) wide at the north end. The Montlake Spite House is still standing and occupied.
- In the 1950s, two Virginia City, Nevada, neighbors got into a dispute. When one of the men built a new house, the other bought the lot next to it and built a house less than 12 inches (30 cm) from his neighbor's house in spite to deprive the neighbor of both view and breeze. The Virginia City Spite House is still standing and occupied.
Source: Spite House