The House That Spite Built
Houses, more often than not, are built with insurance in mind from the beginning. They are planned to encompass safety, livability and longevity, making them simple to finance, insure and eventually resell. Barring any structural or environmental issues, there are virtually no surprises and everything runs smoothly.
Once in a while, someone holds onto bitter grudge and all these principles of sensible home-building get thrown out the window.
When THESE houses were built, the very last thing on the builder’s mind was insurance. In fact, so were livability and property values. In fact one tends to wonder, “What WERE they thinking!?”
These strange structures are known as “Spite Houses”.
Yes, these oddities of architecture and insurance alike are built for the sake of pure defiance. They defy city ordinances, land development, good taste, and sometimes seemingly even the laws of physics. They’re not meant to be pretty or livable, and there’s certainly nothing about them that’s easy to insure. In fact, they were built with only one purpose in mind.
To annoy people… …a LOT.
The majority of spite houses were built in protest to roads and massive building projects. For instance, Dr. John Tyler may have been the first to perform a cateract operation, but he’s better known as the builder of the first spite house to stop construction of a road in Frederick, Maryland. In 1830, a spite house was built in Alexandria, Virginia to halt an unbearable flow of horse and buggy traffic. Built with its to adjacent buildings as walls, the house still stands to this day, attracting tourists, sight-seers and (believe it or not) occupants.
In some cases, spite houses are built out of land deals gone bad. Around 1900 in Alameda, CA, Charles Froling inherited a large piece of land and planned on building his dream house. The city took large chunk of it to build a road and left Froling with only a sliver of land. To spite the city, he built a skinny house on that sliver, where it remains standing (and occupied) to this day.
Some buildings, though not originally built to annoy, do so at the behest of its owners, who refuse to sell it to land developers to complete their massive projects. For instance, Macy’s department store in New York remained the largest store in the world… …except for a little corner shop now known as the million dollar corner, the sum that had to be paid to finally acquire it in 1911. The most famous holdout in the United States remains that of Edith Macefield’s 108-year-old farmhouse sitting in the middle of a five-story commercial building.
Thankfully, spite houses are on the decline thanks to tighter building codes and more expensive materials. It’s become a pretty hefty investment just to annoy someone with a house. This, however, hasn’t stopped people from trying.
As an an insurance agency, we get asked often: “Can we get a good deal on homeowner’s insurance?” Here’s a question we’d like to ask.
“Was your house built for the sole purpose of annoying your neighbors?”
If not, then the answer is yes. Most likely, yes.
We don’t hold grudges. Neither should our houses.
First Baldwin Insurance