The history of spite in America – New York City

During the searches online that I was making about New York City and New York architecture, I happened upon this story about the “Spite House” . . .

Apparently at one time, when the streets were put in, the tiny bits of land left over made odd parcels in strange shapes and often small strips. So in this story, one neighbor with a strip of land only five feet wide by over a 100 feet long that sat next to Lexington Avenue in New York decided to spite his neighbor that wouldn’t pay him as much as he wanted for it. Instead of accepting the $1000 for it when he wanted $5,000 for it, the man fixed his neighbor by building a four story building on the strip of land – although it was only five feet wide and the full length of the property along the street.

http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON005.htm

From this page –

Undaunted, Mr. McQuade hired the prolific architect Alfred B. Ogden to design his apartment buildings, including windows on the lot line under the assumption that Mr. Richardson’s lot would forever remain vacant. Construction of the pair of buildings began on May 22, 1882, triggering Richardson’s spitefulness. Fresh from just having completed the construction of a marble-fronted row of three conventional one-family residences adjoining to the north, he returned to the drafting board and less than a month later, filed plans for a pair of buildings of his own, each 51 feet long, on the Lexington Avenue sliver lot. While each house was nominally only five feet wide, advantage was taken of a clause in the New York City building regulations that permitted corner houses to have bay window extensions. This enabled the main rooms on each floor to be a little more than seven feet wide. Since the Richardson buildings were much smaller than those of Mr. McQuade, they took less effort to construct, and were completed in November 1882, almost five months earlier than the side-street houses. Perhaps exhausted from the battle with Richardson, Mr. McQuade sold his two apartment houses on September 1, 1884, to Heyman Sarner, a local clothier.

It became known as the ”Spite House.”

Richardson died in the house in 1897; during his lifetime the intersection of 82nd and Lexington was one of the most talked about in New York. In 1900, Richardson’s daughter from his first marriage, Dellarifa Richardson, tried to have his widow, Emma (her stepmother), evicted from the house. What happened is unclear, but by 1902 a new owner had converted the ground floor to stores.

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It also says that when Lexington Avenue was put in between Park and Third Avenue, it left those strange parcels of land as a result. Apparently that was in the 1860’s, and then the man who built the Spite House, Joseph Richardson, had purchased the odd-shaped lots including one in the middle of the block where he built three marble faced “brownstones” and the 5 foot wide by102 feet deep strip along Lexington where he built the four story apartments to spite his neighbor. He made the purchase through his niece and then applied for the building permits. It was torn down in 1915. Richardson and his wife lived in the ground floor apartment in the building which was so small that a stove and furniture had to be built specifically for it in order to fit.

The halls and stairways in the house were too small for two people to pass at the same time and even the kitchen table had to be made for it which was listed in the article, as 18 inches wide. But, Mr. Richardson had managed to build the four story tall building and cover all the Lexington Ave side windows of his neighbor’s property . . .

There is a photo of the building on the New York architecture page above, which is very hard to see where the building width of five feet ends and the next building begins. The three marble facade “brownstone” style row houses that Richardson built still exist according to the article. Both the “Spite House” and its neighboring building were torn down by Bing and Bing who put up another building in its place (around 1915).

Hmmm……..

Just to be spiteful.

– cricketdiane

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There is a picture of the “Spite House” here on the NY Architecture site –

http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON005.htm

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cricketdiane10 - 11-23-10 - NY Day One - exploring 324-2

Skinny tall buildings in New York City are stuck between other things and there can be very interesting stories about why that is . . . (this one is my photo - of many I took of the skinny buildings in New York, never knowing about the Spite House story)

Very interesting to see the lengths that people have gone to “fix” their neighbor in America (and elsewhere) – maybe it is just as my daughter said, that we are all spiteful, mean-spirited and ugly to one another as human beings. Maybe it is as she said, the basic human-ness that we work with at our very nature and then we all try to do better, learn better, and act better despite that.

– cricketdiane

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Originally, knowing nothing about the streets being put into place which created odd shaped parcels of land – I was in New York taking pictures and noticed many small width, deep and tall buildings that were here and there stuck between other things that seemed totally out of place and out of scale with their surroundings.

Here is another one that is sited next to a street corner –

00 - cricketdiane10 - NY - Day 5 - samsung 056-2

Another skinny building in New York City - this one on the corner lot where two streets come together - sometimes they are in the middle of the block also - cricketdiane NY photo 2010

There are some buildings that are no more than two windows wide – now I know why that is . . .

I should go back and take more pictures of them. That would make a great book. Also, although I had not known this before doing a bit of research at home, the terra cotta and stone on many buildings was intended partly for fire-proofing the living and working environments after a massive fire had been so costly early in the city’s history. I’m going to write some about that on future posts.

It would be great to know where those terra cotta and stone elements were created, who created them, and who designed them. Many of these elements are so beautiful and elegantly done. And, they are everywhere in New York City.

– cricketdiane

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