Monday, April 15, 2013

Strange But True: The Spite House, New York City

This odd building stands on the corner of 161st Street and Melrose Avenue, New York City. It is a bit over 4ft. in depth, 17ft. frontage, and one and a-half storeys high, with a basement and sub-basement built under the broad sidewalk, extending to the curb. The house itself is of wood, on a steel frame, and has a slate roof.

Its owner is an eccentric tailor, who lives and carries on his trade below the street. The interior consists of a small show-room, a store-room, and spiral iron stairway going down to the "lower regions." The upper storey seems to have been constructed merely as a finishing touch. It is reached by an iron ladder from the store-room. The entire construction, appointments, and fittings are very ingenious, and are all the ideas of the owner.

The story of the house is that the original lot was cut away in opening the avenue, save only the few feet now occupied by the building. A controversy arose between the tailor and the owner of the adjoining property regarding the disposal of the small strip, and the tailor becoming enraged because his neighbour would neither sell his property nor pay the price the knight of the shears demanded, built this odd structure out of spite. The photo. was taken just at the completion of the building, and before the street had been fully paved. It shows, however, the dimensions of the building, and also the construction under the street, etc. Photo. sent in by Mr. W. R. Yard, 156, Fifth Avenue, New York City."

Recently, I was indulging my curiosity on the Gutenberg site, and on a whim decided to take a look at a copy of The Strand Magazine, dating from February 1899. To my delight I saw a piece called 'The Spite House', which I have reproduced in full above. Of course, I immediately had to Google the address (161st Street and Melrose Avenue, New York City), and used Street View to see what buildings were standing at the intersection today, and not surprisingly this odd little building has long disappeared.

I love the serendipitous nature of the Internet, and how one link leads to another and then another. I also take delight in discovering amazing facts and bits of information about any number of things I may not have been specifically searching for, but gain great satisfaction from learning about anyway. One such example, out of many, involves my regular monitoring of the latest uploads to Gutenberg.Org. I have written before about this wonderful organization that has digitised more than 40,000 books, which are now in the public domain (that is, copyright free). The books are then made freely available via their website.

I’ll have more to say about Project Gutenberg at a future date, but until then, why not check the site out for yourself. You will be amazed at the range of books and authors available via the site.

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