The Sam Kee Building
With an address at 499 Carrall Street in Vancouver, BC, the Sam Kee Building technically fronts on West Pender. The Carrall “façade” is just 4 feet 11 inches in width, making this, according to Guiness, the world’s narrowest commercial building and probably the most notorious spite building ever constructed. See what I mean?
Its story is simple. The Sam Kee Company purchased a standard commercial lot in 1903 but delayed construction. Then in 1912 the city widened Pender Street, appropriating all but 4’—11″ of the original parcel. Refusing offers from his neighbors (which would, presumably, have resulted in a net loss of investment), Kee decided to build anyway, and his architects Brown & Gillam produced a steel frame design that projected beyond the property line at both the second floor and the basement. The Kee Building joined the surprisingly large ranks of the world’s other “spite” buildings.
Several have resulted from street widening projects, such as this long-demolished example at 161st Street and Melrose Avenue in the Bronx, once the shop of a tailor, which likewise extended beneath the public right-of-way.
While others grew from dispute — between neighbors or within one family — such as this 1925 house in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle, the product of a messy divorce: ex-husband got the house, while the ex-wife got a compensatory sliver of land and then took her revenge.
Spite can be a powerful force and take many forms and faces, most of them hidden; it doesn’t really work if you know its happening. Like revenge, the best of it occurs when no one notices. So I wonder if anything of this sort happened in the otherwise reserved hamlet of Agincourt.