by Pauli Poisuo
If a huge corporation wants to buy up your house to complete the final phase of their grand redevelopment project, the smart money is usually on them. Occasionally, however, some people take this as a personal challenge, and dig their heels in with hilarious results.
The Seattle Up House
Hey, remember the house from Up? Here it is in real life:
OK, it’s obviously not the exact same one, what with it not being an animated computer construct, but the story of the Edith Macefield House plays out a lot like Up’s plot might have gone if you removed all the bits about flying houses and inserted a little bit of humanity on the developer’s part.
No one knew why the 86-year-old Mrs. Macefield refused to sell the land, because the developer’s offer had actually been pretty damn lucrative. Perhaps she just hated change, or maybe she was a confrontational battleaxe type of person -- the only interview she ever gave about the incident started and ended with the words “Go away.” However, the developer had acquired every patch of land around her, and proceeded to build their huge building complex around the Macefield house anyway.
At the start of the three-year project, construction superintendent Barry Martin started checking on Mrs. Macefield, both out of courtesy and to presumably verify that she wasn’t about to unleash any balloon-themed revenge on the workers. In an odd twist straight out of a Disney movie, the grumpy lady in her holdout house and the man literally responsible for walling her in with a giant concrete development turned out to have a very similar outlook in life; so they befriended each other. Martin found out that Macefield was simply very attached to her home, and wanted to stay there until she died -- just like her mother before her.
Martin also discovered that the reason Edith Macefield was so thoroughly impossible to mess with was that apart from being extremely smart and cultured, her past was brimming with stories: She had been a spy during World War II, had spent time in the Dachau concentration camp, and she had even played with famous musicians like the Dorsey Brothers. Hell, she was even Benny Goodman’s cousin. Martin didn’t really believe any of these stories, because come on. But he did later find a Benny Goodman record in her album collection, bearing the inscription: “To my cousin Edith, with love, Benny.”
When Macefield was diagnosed with cancer, Martin had a very real chance to finally get the family-less Macefield in a nursing home and rid the company of the pesky holdout lady. Instead, he did the exact opposite, and then some: Martin actually started cooking for Macefield and taking care of her, thus ensuring that her wish to stay in her home until the very end came true.
Showing that a little bit of human kindness goes a whole lot further than a huge wad of cash, Macefield left the house to Martin in her will. Both Martin and subsequent owners have done precisely nothing to get rid of the house, and it continues to stand as a testament to the Seattle of yesteryear. And in keeping with its Up legacy, people sometimes attach balloons to it, which is amazing.
Macy’s And The Million Dollar Corner
If you’ve ever been to the legendary Macy’s department store in New York, you may have noticed that it has this weird little notch in one corner. You might also have noticed that said notch is filled by a freestanding building, often supporting a giant Macy’s shopping bag, the reason behind it being that tiny little building forced Macy’s to sacrifice precious, precious store space by building around it.
When superstore tycoon Rowland H. Macy started eyeing the lot at 34th and Broadway for his flagship store in the 1890s, he tried to be clever in order to one-up his competition. In total secrecy, his company started to acquire all the land between 34th and 35th streets. He would have been successful, too, if it wasn’t for one little thing: The 34th Street corner was owned by one Alfred Duane Pell, and Macy’s had only managed to get an oral selling agreement from him before a competitor, Henry Siegel, swooped in to outbid Macy.
Which paved the way for some cool-ass sunglasses outlet.
Siegel’s motive has been lost to history. It’s logical to assume he purchased the lot simply to mess with Macy, but since he didn’t immediately raise a number of billboards calling Macy names, that theory is only speculation. There was an announcement that they’d build a huge, 12-story ladies’ underwear store on the lot, but since it was a weirdly irregular 31 by 46 by 16 by 51 feet, no one really bought it. Thus, history tends to point at a third motive, which was plain old leverage. Siegel’s agent tried to negotiate the release of the corner spot in exchange for Macy’s giving up the lease of their old 14th Street store, allowing Siegel to set up his own department store on that site. Macy’s, however, didn’t bite, and designed their new store with a little notch on the corner.
From that moment on, it was a pissing contest. A year after Macy’s opened the new store, Siegel sabotaged its facade by building the 5-story building on his plot and leasing it to a cigar company. From that point on, the store remained a thorn on Macy’s site -- and a pricey one. In 1911, it even temporarily became the most lucrative real estate deal in Manhattan, when it was sold for a cool $1 million ($866.55 per square foot). However, Macy’s never acquired it, despite many rumors to the contrary. After 1945, the owners of the “million dollar corner” have allowed Macy’s to use the building for advertising, but they still have to negotiate with the building’s owners, and put up with the building’s ground-floor tenants, which have featured a rogue’s gallery of fairground-style stores that sell cheap souvenirs and obscene T-shirts.
St. Joseph Church
In San Antonio, Texas, there’s a large, unremarkable mall complex. However, if you take the time to walk around it, BOOM! Suddenly, your eyeballs are slapped in their eyeball faces with a large church, just skulking in a hole in the concrete walls like the world’s most ornate squatter. This is St. Joseph church, and it is ... unexpected, to say the least.
In 1944, Joske’s of Texas bought the nearby St. Joseph College and a number of other surrounding properties, with an eye on building a vast mall on the site. In order to acquire the last missing piece of their puzzle, they presented the parish with an offer of $200,000, or around $2.8 million in today’s money. As you can probably guess given the photo and the nature of this article, the church refused to sell.
Although their decision was (and remains) a source of pride, the mall was built around them anyway, which presented a whole new set of problems: Not only did the church earn a brand new nickname, St. Joske’s, but their parking space is, well, limited, to say the least.
The Spiegelhalter Jewelry Store
By now, you can probably deduce that wildly growing department stores are a fairly common cause for strange holdout situations. One of our favorites is the story of the Spiegelhalter jewelry store in London’s East End. The Spiegelhalters had been operating out of Mile End Road since the 19th century, and had dug their roots deeply in the area. Despite this, when the neighboring Wickham’s Department Store started expanding and came knocking in 1892, they accommodated the larger business and moved from 75 to 81 Mile End Road.
But moving a business is a hassle, regardless of compensation. So you can imagine the Spiegelhalters’ faces when a few decades later, Wickham’s knocked on their door again, and was all: “Hey, remember when we kind of strong-armed you into moving a little while ago? Yeah, we’ll need you to do that again so we can demolish your store and expand ours. So here’s a check and ... thanks, we guess?”
The Spiegelhalters weren’t having it, though, given generations of their family had worked in the store, and were born and lived in the attached apartments. This was their home, and they weren’t about to be thrown aside again. So they stayed put. This was a huge problem for Wickham’s, who had big plans for the area: The owner wanted to build grand, opulent premises, with columns and a clock tower, and had made it clear that he wanted the finished product to rival the famous West End department store, Selfridges. But the Spiegelhalters wouldn’t budge. No offer was enough to change their minds, even as the construction of the new Wickham’s started on both sides. As such, Wickham’s wound up significantly less palatial than its owner desired:
Just by deciding that enough was enough, the Spiegelhalters not only stayed put -- they effectively ruined the look of the whole thing, as its “central” tower, which was supposed to rise in the Spiegelhalter store’s place, had to be moved to the side. Basically, a grubby-ass jewelry store effectively chopped their entire plan in two.
Adding insult to injury, it was pretty obvious from the department store’s design that Wickham’s aimed to acquire the jewelry store at some point and finish the building, but that never happened. While Wickham’s sold up in the 1960s, the Spiegelhalter store was closed in 1982, yet the building still exists today.
Vera Coking House
Very few people can say that they’ve handily upstaged presidents and porn publishers alike. Vera Coking absolutely can.
Coking’s house was not a remarkable piece of architecture. If anything, it was the opposite: a fading, off-white, clapboard-clad box of a building. What it had going for it, however, was location: It stood smack dab in a prime Atlantic City spot, making it a juicy piece of prime Kobe beef for the ever-salivating real estate developers of the area. Coking and her husband bought it in 1961, and from that moment on, the house was her life. That’s where she lived. That’s where she raised their children. That’s where she even worked, when she turned the place into a boarding house for a while. Even after her husband died and her children grew up, there she remained.
Meanwhile, powerful forces were looking to change this state of affairs. As years went by, Atlantic City became a casino hotspot, and land prices soared. As a result, real estate bigwigs started knocking on Mrs. Coking’s door increasingly loudly. The first person to butt heads with her was Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who wanted to build a casino and offered Coking a cool $1 million for the house in the early 1980s. Coking snubbed Guccione so hard that he evidently bore a grudge, and he started building right next to Coking’s house, and even made sure that the project included a giant metal structure that loomed directly above the house.
But Coking didn’t give a damn. Guccione’s casino project eventually went bust, and she kept on living the way she had always done.
“Who’s up next?” -Vera Coking, presumably.
Unfortunately for her, the man who picked up the remains (and the grudge) was none other than Donald Trump. To his credit, Trump did start nicely enough. He stripped away Guccione’s looming structures and visited Coking personally, going so far as to give her Neil Diamond tickets as a gift. Alas, Coking was less than charmed, since she had never even heard of Neil Diamond, and didn’t much care for what she saw as Trump buttering her up for later negotiations. She wasn’t entirely wrong -- the teams building Trump Casino kept screwing up, breaking her windows and even setting her roof on fire on one occasion. And in 1994, Trump’s legal team started driving an unexpectedly hard bargain: If she wouldn’t sell the house for just $250,000, they’d take her to court and seize it from her via eminent domain.
So of course Coking went to court. And won, handily creating a landmark case for eminent domain vs. property rights. Trump’s casino project eventually went bust, and Coking just went on being awesome.
Like this article? Check out “Insanely Creative Buildings That Solved Huge Problems” and “5 Buildings That Were Made Out Of Pure Spite”.