While the idea of warring neighbors is not a foreign concept, the idea of the spite house might be new to some. These houses, intended specifically to spite someone (usually a neighbor), were popular up to the early 20th century. New Jersey has not been left out of this creative form of retaliation with two stories that contribute to an amusing chapter in the housing industry’s history.
SPITE FENCE TO SPITE HOUSE
Sixteenth Avenue, Newark
In Newark in 1900, from what is now the parking lot of CityPlex 12 cinema, grew a spite story of wealthy neighbors trying to block out one another. In May of that year, Charles Scheider was busy building a house larger than his neighbor, Owen McDonald, at number 42 Sixteenth Avenue. But it wasn’t due to the increased size of his family, it was out of anger toward McDonald who had built an extremely tall “spite fence” to irritate Scheider. It is unclear what precipitated McDonald’s expenditure on such an unusual structure, but the enormity of it was clearly a negative message to his neighbors. Not to allow McDonald to have the last word, Scheider began his spite house with intentions of shutting off light from his side of McDonald’s house and any view of the avenue as well.
However it didn’t stop there. Apparently McDonald not only didn’t get along the Scheider family but also with his neighbor on the other side of his property at 42 Sixteenth Avenue, Fisher Finkelstein. Perhaps Finkelstein didn’t want to be left out of the activity brewing or he simply had his own grievance with McDonald, but whatever the case, he decided to follow suit and build his own spite house to block the light and view on the other side of McDonald’s house.
It is unknown how far the competition between the three continued on, but the newspaper put the development succinctly when it stated, “The improvements will give the McDonald mansion the appearance of a small boy sandwiched between two fat men.” Within 10 years all three had moved to homes elsewhere in Newark, obviously concluding that they were not well matched neighbors.
Bloomfield Avenue, Glen Ridge
As time went on, building codes were tailored to prevent these particular types of “improvements” on houses. So, when a battle caused spiteful feelings to well up, homeowners had to be more creative in expressing their dissatisfaction. Perhaps that was the reason Mrs. Irene Andrews Warren decided to turn her home into the “ugliest in the world” by the use of odd decorations in 1932 . Unlike most spite houses which were a reaction to a next-door neighbor, her spite house was directed toward the neighborhood council who had denied permission to lease her home for business development. Standard Oil had offered to purchase her lot with the desire to install a gas pump on the property.
Subverting any building codes put in place to stop spite houses, Warren called on her ingenuity by appealing to famous artists across America to suggest colors that would make her house “shriek to the high heaven.” The house was painted in multiple colors in the style of camouflage of a wartime ship dashed with large cartoon characters. Some characters were painted while others were constructed out of various materials, complete with hideous faces, and were hung on the siding.
Though the neighborhood council was unhappy with her shenanigans, they did not budge. She continued with her antics by posting a clothesline in her front yard and bedecking it, and the house windows, with red flannel underwear. Her final insult to the council was adding four large hog heads to her front lawn representing the council members. The fight went on for years drawing much attention from the media and gawkers who would travel some distance to see the amusing house and its owner - who would prance around the yard to draw further attention. Eventually she dubbed the house “Defiance Manor.”
Click on the photo to the left to watch a vintage video. As a neighborhood council member, would you relent?