Amazing Places

Spite Houses Are Buildings Designed to Annoy the Neighbors

Neighbors. Can't live with 'em, can't build a giant statue of a middle finger to spite 'em. Scratch that — it's been done, along with the construction of even larger and more outlandish memorials to the grudges people hold against each other. "Spite houses" can be found all over the world, each a testament to the determination and pettiness of the human spirit. These are the spite houses that might be in your neck of the woods.

The Pink House of Plum Island

As you might guess, many spite houses are built as the result of a particularly nasty divorce. The Pink House is a prime example. In 1925, a husband in Newburyport, Massachusetts finally convinced his wife to agree to a divorce as long as he acquiesced to one condition: That he build an exact replica of the house they owned together somewhere in town. She probably should have been more specific.

The Pink House was placed on Plum Island, a tourist spot that consists of beautiful beaches and an inhospitable salt marsh. No prizes for guessing which part of the island he chose. Of course, it wasn't enough to just make sure that the house was stuck in the middle of a swamp. He also had the plumbing rigged to only run saline water. Talk about feeling salty.

Al Ba'sa (The Grudge), Beirut

There's a pretty good number of houses that were built to spite a brother or sister, as well. In Beirut, you'll find the straightforwardly named "Al Ba'sa," or "The Grudge," which is an absurdly skinny structure erected in 1954 for the sole purpose of driving down the property values of the owner's brother's building next door. According to the story, each sibling inherited a plot of land, with one of those plots being unfortunately truncated by a passing road.

The triangular tract of land was wide enough for a decent apartment complex on one side, but the building would have to taper to a point only 60 centimeters (23 inches) in width. And that would be absurd, right? Right, but he did it anyway. If you come at this building from the skinny side, you might wonder why they built such a huge wall with nothing behind it. It's because the only point of Al Ba'sa was to block the brother's view.

Candy Cane House, London

Sometimes it's not the way a house is built that makes it spiteful; it's the way it's decorated. Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring bought her Kensington townhouse for several million pounds, and (perhaps understandably) believed that gave her the right to do what she wanted with it: that is, demolish it and build a new house on the property. Her neighbors objected, and her plans stalled as she struggled to secure the necessary permits. But they couldn't prevent her from painting her house ... so she had it done up in blindingly brilliant white-and-red stripes.

Macefield House, Seattle

Sometimes, a perfectly normal building becomes a spite house as the neighborhood around it changes. Edith Macefield wasn't even especially spiteful, but her house became the center of a major controversy in 2006 when the Ballard Blocks shopping center started popping up all around it. But all elderly Edith wanted was to live out the rest of her life in her century-old farmhouse. She turned down offer after offer until eventually the developers just shrugged their shoulders and built around her instead. The pictures might look familiar — Pixar would base Carl Fredrickson's home in "Up" on Ms. Macefield's.

Edith passed away only two years after the battle over her home began, but the house survived. When she died, she left it to a man named Barry Martin. He wasn't related to her, though. He was a construction supervisor who had been working on the shopping center that caused her so much consternation. Still, all that time spent in close proximity made them fast friends, and he's now one of the house's fiercest defenders. This story has a happy ending, too — as of 2018, the house is still there, with tentative plans in place to turn it into an event space.

Any house can be a spite house if you imbue it with enough malice. Discover what range of houses live in the United States in "A Field Guide to American Houses" on Kindle. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Spite Houses: The Montlake Pie House

Written by Reuben Westmaas July 20, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.