The Inspector

By NPI, Inc.



Passive-Aggressive Architecture: The Odd Phenomenon of Spite Houses

 July 17, 2023 |  Just For Fun |  real estate, entertaining

Homes are, traditionally, structures designed with a combination of comfort and function in mind. Architectural styles have risen and fallen in popularity as families seek out the perfect place to raise their children and entertain their guests. But, what happens when a less-than-pleasant motivation becomes the driving force of a new home’s construction?

The Hollensbury Spite House
In historic Alexandria, Va.,the Hollensbury Spite House has become a tourist attraction in its own right thanks to its strikingly skinny dimensions–less than 7 feet wide when approaching from the street level. This bright blue, two-story, 325-square-foot home is sandwiched between two much larger buildings to its east and west, and begs an explanation as to why such a small, blink-and-you-miss-it house found its way to 523 Queen Street.

As the story goes, John Hollensbury was a prominent citizen of Alexandria and a member of the city council back in the early 1800s. All seemed well for the Hollensbury family, aside from issues regarding the alleyway between Mr. Hollensbury’s home and his neighbor’s which attracted many loiterers and carriage traffic. When gouges from carriage wheels began piling up on the exterior walls of Hollensbury’s home, he decided to purchase the land between the two buildings and build an additional house - blocking access to the alley.

Today, the Hollensbury Spite House is still inhabited part-time, and it lives on as a beloved local oddity, grandfathered into modern building codes so that it’s protected from demolition for years to come. Though this house may have been built to spite the public who were misusing Hollensbury’s alleyway, 523 Queen St has become a point of pride for the locals today.

Photo by APK, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Plum Island Pink House
In the salt marshes outside of Newbury, Massachusetts stands a lonely pink house currently home to only the predatory hawks and owls that are sometimes seen perched on its roof. This building, usually referred to as either “The Plum Island Pink House,” or simply, “The Pink House,” is a fixture of local urban legends that trace back to the 1920s.

Apparently, the Pink House was the result of a messy divorce, wherein the ex-wife required her ex-husband to build her an exact replica of the home that they lived in together. In the tradition of spite homes, however, this ex-husband is said to have taken advantage of the fact that his ex-wife never specified where the home needed to be built, choosing to construct the building in the middle of the marshes. Due to its location, the Pink House had no access to fresh water, so its salt water plumbing was said to make the home uninhabitable.

While the local tale-tellers might swear by this unusual history, the truth may be a little simpler. Still, the Plum Island Pink House is an incredibly unique landmark in the Newburyport area, and the Support the Pink House organization has been formed to combat the continuing threat of demolition. To learn more about the Pink House, check out their website here!

The Toronto Half House
Some homes are meant to be a spite house and built as such, while others become spite houses by default due to their inconvenient location. As proven by the Toronto Half House, other homes can start out perfectly normal and become a spite house over time.

The structure situated in downtown Toronto looks today like a house that was split exactly in two, with one side discarded and the other left standing on its own. The origin of this architectural oddity stretches back to the 1950’s, when the Toronto Half House was a whole house, connected to a few other identical houses on St. Patrick Street. These homes, which were constructed back in the late 19th century, were identified by developers as the perfect area to purchase land and demolish in order to build something new.

As neighbor after neighbor caved to these developers’ negotiation tactics, eventually only the Valkos family of 54 ½ St. Patrick St. dug in their heels and refused to sell. The result meant that as their neighbors’ houses were demolished, the developers had to carefully separate the part of the building that they owned from its other half, without harming the Valkos’ home. Although the Half House didn’t come out unscathed, the Valkos’ home still stands today as a peculiar monument.

Photo Provided by Google User

Whether they exist due to the spite their owners had for local ruffians, ex-spouses, or large development companies, spite houses are undeniably some of the most unique homes in existence today.

NPI home inspectors are expertly trained to handle all sorts of home oddities. If you think you might be missing half of your home, maybe it’s time for a home maintenance inspection. Contact National Property Inspections today to schedule your next inspection!

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