The Narrowest Buildings in the World Are "Spite Houses"

People angry with a city, a neighbor, or a family member have built some amazing houses.
Marcia Wendorf

Congratulations to the new owner of Boston's "Skinny House", the narrowest house in the city. As reported by CNN, the 1,165 square foot (108 sq m) home is just 10 feet wide, and just sold for a cool $1.25 million.

Apparently, the new owners were able to overlook a plaque that is attached to the front of their new house that proclaims it to be a "Spite House". A spite house is a building constructed specifically to irritate or annoy. They may block access to a neighboring property, or block views, sunlight, or airflow.

1. Boston Spite House - Boston, MA

Boston Spite House
Boston Spite House Source: Rhododendrites/Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-1800s, two brothers had inherited land from their deceased father. One brother went away to serve in the Civil War while the other brother built a large house on the property.

When the serving brother returned, he found that he had only a shred of property left on which to build, but instead of getting mad, he got even. In 1874, he and built a 10.4-foot (3.2 m) wide house which tapers to just 9.25 feet (2.82 m) at its rear. The house blocked the view of the Boston harbor from his brother's house, and his sunlight and air.

According to the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Boston Spite House is "the narrowest house in Boston." It stands across the street from the historic Copp's Hill Burying Ground.

2. Singel 166 Spite House - Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Single 166 Spite House
Single 166 Spite House Source: Rudolphous/Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1634, an alley ran between two potters' workshops. When a house was built in place of the alley, the owner had a sharp eye toward taxes, which were based on the width of a home's street-facing side.

To spite the city, the house was built at only 6-feet-wide (1.8 m) at its entryway, but it expanded to 16 feet (5 m) at its back. Today, the house still stands and is occupied.

3. Old Spite House - Marblehead, MA

The Old Spite House
The Old Spite House Source: Richard Cook/Wikimedia Commons

In 1715, in Marblehead, Massachusetts, another family dispute led sailmaker Thomas Wood to construct what became known as the "Old Spite House." Wood built the 10-food-wide (3 m) house just high enough to spoil the views of two houses that were owned by his older brothers.

Wood thought the estate of their deceased father had been divided unequally. Today, The Old Spite is still standing, and it is occupied.

4. McCobb Spite House - Phippsburg, Maine

McCobb Spite House
McCobb Spite House Source: GregManninLB/Wikimedia Commons

When Thomas McCobb returned to Phippsburg from going to sea, it was with the assumption that he would inherit his father's shipbuilding business and mansion, known as the "Mansion in the Wilderness." Instead, while he was gone, his stepbrother, Mark, had married his sister and scooped up the goods.

To spite his stepbrother, McCobb built a larger, more ornate house directly across the street from the Mansion in the Wilderness, so that his step-brother would have to see his home every day. But the two men did not remain enemies for long. In 1796, the men became partners in the shipbuilding firm Hill-McCobb. In 1925, The McCobb Spite House was moved by barge from Phippsburg to Deadman's Point in Rockport, Maine.

5. Tyler Spite House Frederick, Maryland

Tyler Spite House
Tyler Spite House Source: Thisisbossi/Wikimedia Commons

In 1814, Dr. John Tyler was a renowned ophthalmologist and one of the first American physicians to perform a cataract operation. Tyler owned a parcel of land in Frederick where he hoped to build a house.

When the City of Frederick made plans to extend a street right through Tyler's land, Tyler got to work researching city codes, and he found a law on the books that prevented a road from being built if work on a building was in progress.

To spite the city, Tyler had a foundation for his new house poured the very night before road construction was due to begin. Today, you can see the Tyler Spite house at the southern end of Record Street in Frederick.

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6. Hollensbury Spite House - Alexandria, Virginia

Hollensbury Spite House
Hollensbury Spite House Source: Google Maps

In 1830, John Hollensbury's house in Alexandria, Virginia was next to an alley through which a lot of horse-drawn wagons passed, making noise and scraping the wall as they passed. The alley also attracted loiterers.

Hollensbury hit upon a novel idea. Using the brick wall on the side of his house that bordered the alley, and the brick wall of the house on the other side of the alley, then by adding only a front and a back, Hollensbury constructed a 7-foot (2.1 m) wide, 25-foot (7.6 m) deep two-story house measuring just 325 square feet (30 sq m).

Today, what has become known as the Hollensbury Spite House is still standing and it is occupied. The interior brick walls of the house still show the gouges created by the passing wagon-wheel hubs.

7. Richardson Spite House - New York, NY

Richard Spite House
Richard Spite House Source: Wikimedia Commons

Around 1880, Hyman Sarner, wanted to build an apartment house on a plot of land he owned at Lexington Avenue and 82nd Street in New York City. He approached the owner of a ridiculously narrow plot adjacent to his own plot and offered what he considered to be a generous sum: $1,000. When the narrow plot's owner, Joseph Richardson, demanded $5,000 for his land, Sarner refused. Sarner went ahead and constructed his apartment without the extra space. 

In 1882, to spite Sarner, Richardson built what came to be known as The Richardson Spite House, although it was actually two houses, measured just 104 feet (31.7 m) wide, and an incredible five feet (1.5 m) deep. It was four stories tall - exactly the same height as the apartment building. Richardson lived in one building and rented the other out. The Spite House, as well as Sarner’s apartment building, were bulldozed in 1915 to make way for a new, normal-sized apartment building, which still stands today, at 129 East 82nd Street.

8. Waldorf Hotel Spite House - New York City, NY

Waldorf Hotel
Waldorf Hotel Source: Bellevue-Stratford Hotel/Wikimedia Commons

During the early 1890s, on the plot of land where the Empire State Building now stands, the mansion of businessman William Waldorf Astor sat next to the mansion of his aunt, Caroline Astor. The two despised one another, and William came up with a plan to spite his aunt.

In 1893, Astor tore down his mansion and replaced it with the 225-foot (69 m) tall Waldorf Hotel which not only towered over his aunt's house, but Astor had insisted that the hotel have no windows on the side that faced his aunt's house, forcing her to look at a brick wall.

In 1929, The Waldorf Hotel Spite House was razed to make room for the Empire State Building, and in 1931, a new hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, was built on Park Avenue, where it remains to this day.

9. Alameda Spite House - Alameda, California

Alameda Spite House
Alameda Spite House Source: Elf/Wikimedia Commons

Around 1900, as part of an inheritance, Charles Froling received a parcel of land located in Alameda, California. Froling was in the midst of planning to build his dream house when the City of Alameda, with the help of Froling's neighbor, took a large part of the land to build a street.

To spite the city and the neighbor, Froling built a house that was 20 feet (6.1 m) high, 54 feet (16 m) wide, and only 10 feet (3.0 m) deep. Froling even cantilevered the second story to maximize the floor space.

Today, the Alameda Spite House is still standing, and it is occupied.

10. O'Reilly Spite House - West Cambridge, MA

O'Reilly Spite House
O'Reilly Spite House Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1908, Francis O'Reilly owned a small parcel of land in West Cambridge, Massachusetts. When O'Reilly approached the owner of a neighboring parcel to see if he wanted to buy his parcel, that neighbor refused.

To spite his neighbor, O'Reilly set to work building a spite house that measured 37 feet (11 m) long and was only 8 feet (2.4 m) wide. Today, The O'Reilly Spite House is still standing, and as of 2009, it was occupied by an interior design business.

11. Sam Kee Spite House - Vancouver, British Columbia

Sam Kee Spite House
Sam Kee Spite House Source: Bookandcoffee/Wikimedia Commons

Located at 8 West Pender Street in Vancouver, BC, Canada, stands, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the narrowest commercial building in the world.

In 1903, when one of the wealthiest businessmen in Vancouver's Chinatown, Chang Toy, who was also known as Sam Kee, purchased the land, it was a standard-sized lot. But in 1912, the City of Vancouver widened Pender Street, and Kee was forced to sell 24 feet (7.3 m) of his land to the city.

Kee made a bet with a business associate in 1912 that he could construct a building on the thin parcel of land. He hired the architects Brown and Gillam to design a two-story steel-framed building that at ground level was only 4'11" (1.50 m) deep.

From the time it was built to this day, The Sam Kee Spite House has had commercial tenants. The basement of the house extends beneath the sidewalk, and at one time, included public baths and a barber shop, the top story was used for offices, and the ground floor was used for shops.

12. Pink Spite House - Newbury, MA

In 1922 in Newbury, Massachusetts, a couple were going through a nasty divorce. As part of the divorce settlement, the husband got to keep the marital home, while he was required to build an identical house for his ex-wife. However, the divorce settlement failed to stipulate where that house should be built.

The husband built the new house in the middle of the Great Marsh, a salt marsh located at the edge of the town. He used saltwater in all the plumbing, making the house uninhabitable, and for good measure, he painted the house pink, as can be seen in the picture below. In 2011, the house was sold to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

The Narrowest Buildings in the World Are "Spite Houses"
Source: Dru1138/Wikimedia

However, there is a twist here — in 2017, researchers found that the legend surrounding the house may be just that — a legend. As it turns out, the house was not a replica — the husband “tricked” his wife into thinking they were going to live in the house together, only to abandon her there with little money while he remained in Boston with another woman. They were divorced some years later, and the house was lived in by the Clutters. and later others, until at least the 1960s. On top of this, fresh running water was very rare in the Plum Island area and many homes there had salt water plumbing.

Despite this, there is a lot of spite involved, and the rumors around the house only add to its charm. 

13. The Montlake Spite House - Seattle, WA

Montlake Spite House
Montlake Spite House Source: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

There are several competing stories about this house in the Montlake area of Seattle, Washington, all involving spite. In one, in 1925, a neighbor made a low-ball offer for a tiny slice of land that abutted his property so that he could enlarge his backyard. The owner of the slice of land was so outraged by the offer that he built a spite house that measures 55 inches (1.4 m) wide at its south end, and is 15 feet (4.6 m) wide at its north end.

In another, a judge awarded a separating couple’s house to the husband, leaving the wife with just the front garden. The wife constructed the tiny house on the sliver of land out of spiteToday, The Montlake Spite House is still standing, and it is occupied. In 2016, the house was on the market for $519,000.

14. "The Grudge" Spite House - Beirut, Lebanon

The Narrowest Buildings in the World Are "Spite Houses"
"The Grudge" Spite House Source: Sandra Rishani

In yet another example of brother versus brother, in 1954 in Beirut, Lebanon, two brothers failed to come to terms over how to develop their adjoining plots of land located in the well-heeled Manara neighborhood.

When one brother constructed a building with a view of the harbor, the other brother built in front of it, what may be the thinnest inhabitable building in the world, measuring 46 feet high (14 m) and only two feet wide (60 cm) at its narrowest, and 13 feet (4 m) wide at its widest.

Today, the building known as Al Ba'sa (The Grudge) is still standing, but is no longer occupied.

15. George Lucas Spite Housing - Marin County, California

After his enormous success with the Star Wars movies, director and producer George Lucas wanted to build a movie studio on his Skywalker Ranch located in Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco.

The area is home to some of the wealthiest residents in the country, and they put up a fierce resistance to Lucas's plans, citing increased traffic, ruined views, and potential damage to the environment that the movie studio would cause.

In 2012, Lucas gave up on his plans to build the studio, but he had an interesting plan to spite his neighbors. Instead of a studio, Lucas built affordable housing on the land, footing the hefty $150 million construction bill himself.

16. Steve Wynn Spite House That Never Was - Las Vegas, Nevada

Caesars Palace Casino
Caesars Palace Casino Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1971, famous casino impresario Steve Wynn was just getting started in Las Vegas. Wynn noticed that there was a narrow, one-acre parcel of land for sale that fronted the famous Las Vegas Strip and sat right next door to the Caesars Palace casino.

Wynn announced to the press that he would build a casino, albeit an extremely narrow one, that would compete with Caesars Palace next door. The announcement had the desired effect, and Caesars bought Wynn out to the tune of $2.25 million.

17. The Macefield Spite House - Seattle, WA

Macefield Spite House
Macefield Spite House Source: Ben Tesch/Wikimedia Commons

In 2006, real estate developers wanted to build a shopping mall on a plot of land in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. The only problem was that there was a tiny house sitting right in the middle of the plot of land.

The developer approached the house's owner, Edith Macefield, and offered her $1 million to move, and incredibly she refused. In a plot straight out of the Disney movie Up which came out three years later, the enormous development was built surrounding Macefield's house on three sides.

Just two years later, in 2008, Macefield died, leaving no living relatives. However, Edith Macefield made the giant new building's construction superintendent, Barry Martin, executor of her estate, in response to the kindness he had shown her. Since then, the home has been sold, foreclosed, put up for auction, and donated to a nonprofit organization.

Today, a Ballard tattoo artist has placed over 30 tattoos of Macefield's house on his customers. In 2013, the Macefield Music Festival was held in Ballard, while a podcast by 99% Invisible titled "Holdout" was about Ms. Macefield.

In May 2019, and again in June 2021, BBC 4 Radio broadcast a play entitled, The Macefield Plot which starred Sian Phillips as Macefield and Stanley Townsend as Barry Martin.

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