History Of New York’s Spite Houses And Tiny Homes

Spite House History

Photo: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tiny homes are all the rage these days. With the price of building material and monthly utility prices soaring, many savvy consumers have taken to small house living. It may be surprising to learn; however, that tiny homes are nothing new. Albany and the surrounding New York area have so many of these incredible unusual buildings that they have their very own “Tiny House Tours”. All over the globe, including New York, there resides a bunch of little, oddly placed historic homes, some that were built for just as odd reasons. The label “spite house” is applied to some of those homes, and in many cases, is just calling it like it is–or how it was.

In former times, landowners did not always have the benefit of fair legal satisfaction  Sometimes disgruntled neighbors were left to settle property disputes between themselves. What better way to make a non-violent protest statement than to build a tall, skinny home in the alley between you and an ill-favored neighbor, or add on a boxy front addition!  Yes, that’s what many did and they produced these distinct, weird homes whose design was created to be either intentionally awkward and unsightly or serve to block sunlight or access to a right of way!

Not all of the tiny homes were built as the result of a grudge match, some are just a reflection of the builder’s quirky taste, yet each of these homes featured on the “Tiny House Tours” and listed in the historical property rolls of New York begs the question as to who built these homes and (most of all) why?

Let’s take a look at some of these historic tiny homes and the reasons why they were built

Wilson Street, Albany, NY

This building more resembles a narrow chimney than a home. It was built in 1876 and was at one time home to two machinists. The building is part of the Ten Broeck Triangle, the main, stately, much larger main mansion built in 1797 by Dutch-American businessman Abraham Ten  Broeck, a part-time politician who was elected twice as Mayor of Albany, following his father who served as mayor a generation before. Was the small, slim mini addition built as on-premises rental quarters for the help? No matter why it was built, the small svelte structure at  Wilson Street adds charm and whimsy to the grand estate.

State Street, Albany, NY

What this home lacks in size, it makes up for in charm–and mystery. No one knows exactly why this tiny brick structure was built in front of 303 State Street. It’s assumed to have been once used as a carriage house, but why it was originally erected is anyone’s guess. For such a small home it has 1 and ½ bathrooms, which was unusual a century ago. This Little House on State Street, as it’s known, has a spiral staircase, a sleeping loft, and a tiny kitchen. The current owners, the Ladapoulos family, use it as a rental property. No other information is known about the oddly placed home.

There are many noteworthy tiny homes on Washington Ave in Albany.

Although Albany has some of the most interesting, still standing historic tiny homes, New York builders meant serious business when building small houses in other parts of the area.

 

Manhattan –82nd Street and Lexington The Richardson House

In 1882 a wealthy clothier, Hyman Sarner, wanted to expand his row of buildings to Lexington Avenue. Joseph Richardson who owned the property at 82nd and Lexington was insulted by Sarner’s petty offer of a mere 1,000 dollars for the small, yet primely located strip of land he owned. Sarner refused Richardson’s asking price of 5,000 dollars so the war was on! Richardson built two tall slim Renaissance Revival-style apartment buildings, hardly room enough for anyone to comfortably live in, but just enough to thwart Sarner and block sunlight from his windows. Richardson’s family was applauded, but the eccentric builder could not be dissuaded. Richardson was so stubborn that in 1897  he died in one of those tiny homes. In 1915, to make way for a grander, more sensible building, the little spite houses were torn down. One building now stands where there used to be three. Still, Joseph Richardson did make his point through some oddly placed real estate.

Long Island  –  Lena Avenue, Freeport, NY

This home on  Lena Avenue in Freeport, New York erected by builder John Randall in 1906, although known as “Miracle House” can safely rest under the category “spite house”. The gauntlet was thrown down when the city’s planners decided that homes on the street should follow a gridline. Another developer was getting ready to expand Lena Avenue westward so John Randall, an accomplished property developer, did what he did best—he constructed a house on a triangle-shaped lot that totally put the kibosh on the city’s plans.  It seems he had to work fast to make his point and he did. Randalls “spite house” went up in just one day! Imagine his rival’s surprise (and the city governments’) when they saw that charming abode sitting smack dab in the center of their planned community! The Miracle House, as it became known, is still standing and was recently sold in 2018 and again in 2020. According to real estate sites, it’s currently worth close to 800,000 dollars.

Spite Houses are fascinating. However some of these homes are private residences so for the sake of privacy we have not included the exact address of these homes. However some of them you can visit. For more information on tours that will showcase these homes in a professional manor click on the link below.

For information about the Tiny Home Tours in the Albany Capital District, visit https://www.historic-albany.org/news/category/Tour.

History Of New York’s Spite Houses And Tiny Homes  – ClassicNewYorkHistory.com ©2021

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