Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oh No You Didn't!

Stan Pike says, kiss it, colorfully
Richardson house, 1882-1915
The Skinny House, Boston
Aerial view of the Montlake House, Seattle
I can sympathize with Stan Pike of suburban Atlanta, who just wouldn't take "no" from his dumbass Homeowners Association.  About a decade ago, he applied to build a rounded entry porch on his home in order to balance out the rounded addition already on its right side.  Somehow the development he lived in had historical preservation rules, despite being a "hodgepodge of structures" in all styles from Tudor to modern.  So, it was a resounding "no" to his reasonable request.  We are all familiar with those petty authoritarians who extend their tenuous power much farther than was originally intended, from experiences in school, at work, with voluntary organizations, or with HOAs (the worst of the lot).
Mr. Pike did a little research and found that the local rules lacked the usual restriction on exterior paint colors, and immediately applied a coat of bright green with purple dots.  Others were fed up with restrictive, arbitrary interpretations of the covenants, and rallied in support:  purple dots appeared all over the neighborhood.  I especially applaud the one resident who put out a pink flamingo.  Stan, you're the man.

Others have gone farther when personal animosities, money and perceived property rights are involved.  There's something called the "spite house," which is a narrow or odd building placed next to another exisiting one to block its view or exposure to sunlight, just for spite.  One of the most well-known is a four-story apartment building once at Lexington Avenue and 82d Street, New York, built by Mr. Richardson to irritate the owner of the building next door who had offered 1/5 of what Richardson wanted for his narrow lot.  It was 104' long but just 5' deep!  I'm assuming the the tenants (if there were any) of the eight suites had to travel sideways like a crab.

In 1874, two brothers in Boston got into a dispute over inherited land; one built a large home on it, leaving the other with a narrow strip.  Pretty upset, the losing brother built the Skinny House there, a four-story wood structure about 10 1/2' wide in front, tapering to 9 1/4' in the rear.  It stands yet today.  Presumably in the afterlife, the brothers still aren't getting along.

Legend has it that in the mid-1920s, as a result of a divorce, a judge awarded the husband and child their home, leaving the ex-wife the front yard; she proceeded to build an 860 square foot house on it in revenge(aerial view above).  It also has an odd tapering shape, going from 55" at one end to 15' at the other.  That's a good story, but the actual situation was probably the usual one of a low offer made on a strip of land and an out-of-proportion response.

The record-holder for skinniest commercial building is in Vancouver, where Sam Kee objected to losing most of his property (to street widening by the city) by building an odd structure with a 4'll" deep first floor and an overhanging balcony.  A steel frame holds it up, defying the laws of physics, and real estate, to this day.

Right now, here in Mudville, the HOA Landscape Committee had the landscapers cut all the Spirea shrubs down for the fifth time this year to 1" nubs, and rip out the daffodil bulbs that have been in the circle opposite us for over 20 years.  It seems someone "objected to not being able to see the stop signs" -- despite the fact that no one stops for them anyway; what about Marine-haircut-tall shrubs and dormant daffodil bulbs was preventing a view of anything?  This just after the Spring planting of 16 decorative grass plants in the four circles (not a cheap project) was pulled out two weeks ago for the same specious reason.  Any dissent around here (and there is none, believe it or not) is pre-stifled by provisions in the bylaws such as charging the owner-resident all the legal fees the HOA will incur in dealing with said dissent.  Plus the imposition of fines that will result in you losing your home if not paid.

Building a spite house in response to pressure is a tad extreme (and how would you even do it considering permits and building codes?), but those who did left us with some amusing history.    

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