Spite houses are a pretty common occurrence; common enough that Wikipedia even has a page for them.
That page defines a spite house as "A building constructed or modified to irritate neighbors or other parties with land stakes. Spite houses often serve as obstructions, blocking out light or access to neighboring buildings, or as flamboyant symbols of defiance.Because long-term occupation is at best a secondary consideration, spite houses frequently sport strange and impractical structures."
Like a spite fence but with a considerably larger budget.
Milwaukee's most famous spite house was built by the still-famous Judge Jason Downer on the lower East Side and still stands at 1223 N. Prospect Ave.
Downer was a circuit court and state supreme court justice – and newspaper publisher – whose passion for ensuring that women would have access to higher education was made well-known via the philanthropy that led to his name being affixed to the Milwaukee Downer College (that sat along a street that still bears his name today), which he helped fund.
Downer built a Victorian Gothic home of cream city brick at the corner of Juneau and Prospect in 1874 from plans drawn by Edward Townsend Mix. Interestingly, the home was begun in 1869 as a church, according to Russell Zimmerman's "Heritage Guidebook," and when that project was abandoned Downer bought the unfinished foundation.
Downer reportedly especially loved the view of the fountain in the patch of land that is now called Burns Commons.
So, when, according to tradition, Ebenezer Arnold – the librarian of the Young Men's civic association whose donation of its book collection was the basis for the founding of the Milwaukee Public Library – built a double Victorian Gothic rowhouse right next door, at 1229-31 N. Prospect Ave., Downer was less than pleased.
The house – which boasts an eye-catching asymmetrical facade – you see, jutted out to the sidewalk and blocked Downer's fountain view.
It should be noted that Russell Zimmermann in his book, "Magnificent Milwaukee," argues that Arnold, who had previously owned the lot, did not build the offending house. Rather, he says, Francis Hinton bought Arnold's house and demolished it to build the townhouse that so enraged Downer, perhaps as an investment property.
Based on the same curvature of the street that affected Downer's sightlines, it seems safe to assume that Arnold's 1229 house had views out toward the lake, and it is there that Downer saw a chance to get even.
The judge's comeback was the lovely Queen Anne residence he had erected at 1223 N. Prospect Ave. around 1880. The home – added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 (Arnold's house is also listed) -- had a solid north wall nudged right up next to Arnold's house.
These days, the windows in the 1229 N. Prospect Ave. house that were blacked out by Downer's spite house have reportedly been converted into bookshelves and cabinets.
Though the view from 1229 is long gone, a great Milwaukee story has taken its place.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.