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Hell no, we won't go! Homeowners who wouldn't budge

Austin Spriggs' row house on Massachusetts Ave., which he refused to sell to developers, is now an island surrounded by a huge hole in the ground.
Bill O'Leary | The Washington Post | Getty Images

A holdout is the term used when a new development comes in and an owner or owners refuse to sell, or owners hold out for so much money that the development proceeds around the building anyway. The result is a home or building distinguished from their new neighbors and stand as monuments to the stubborn spirit of the owners.

Examples of this David and Goliath phenomenon are found all over the world. What follows are holdouts that made headlines, as well as one that's been hiding in plain sight in New York City for decades. Let's begin with a holdout house that's in the news once again.

By Colleen Kane, special to
Posted 27 Feb. 2015


Ben Tesch | Flickr

On March 13, this famous holdout is going up on the auction block. When the Ballard Blocks mall was coming into Seattle's Ballard neighborhood in 2005, owner Edith Macefield refused an offer of nearly $1 million for her modest 1,000-square-foot, century-old house.

It may have inspired the Pixar movie "Up." As a promotion in 2009, Pixar parent Disney outfitted the house with a bundle of balloons like in the movie.

Something of a folk hero, Macefield died in her own home at age 86 in 2008, but willed the house to Barry Martin, the superintendent on the construction site, who had gradually become her friend and caretaker. Martin sold the house to Reach Returns, a group which had plans to elevate the house but keep it intact, but the property fell into foreclosure. The surrounding mall was designed to eventually overtake the space so if the owner of the mall buys the property, it's not looking good for this little wood house that could.

Portland, Oregon

Visitor7 | Wikipedia

Portland's counterpart to Edith Macefield's house is an 1894 Queen Anne Victorian belonging to Randal Acker. In 2006, Figo House, named for Acker's dog, was faced with condemnation to make way for 16 stories of Portland State University housing. However, Acker, who is a commercial litigation lawyer and uses the house as offices for his practice, fought eminent domain and won. In another nod to the movie "Up," Figo House was also outfitted with 400 helium balloons provided by Acker in 2011.

New York

Library of Congress

Macy's Herald Square department store in New York City appears to be one cohesive building occupying its entire block. But on the corner of 34th Street and Broadway, hidden behind a sign showing a colossal shopping bag with the words "world's largest store" is a five-story holdout.

This parcel became known as Million Dollar Corner when it sold in 1911 for that price, which was then an all-time high for real estate sales. The seller was Robert H. Smith, who is thought to have acted on behalf of competitor Siegel-Cooper, purchasing the property in 1900, hoping to block the R.H. Macy and Co. Store from becoming the world's largest department store.


SilkTork | Wikimedia Commons

The former Wickhams department store building in London's East End made it into the news earlier this year in a report about the fight to save it. The article deemed the classical structure interrupted by a two-story holdout "London's best architectural joke."

That joke began in the early 20th century when the Wickham family planned to build a department store, and the Spiegelhalter family of clockmakers and jewelers halted the plan when it refused to sell. In 1927 the Wickhams went through with building the store anyway, intending to complete the structure when the Spiegelhalters eventually sold out or died off, but the department store went out of business in the 1960s. Plans to revitalize the struggling area now include demolition for the two-story holdout to create a new entrance to the former Wickhams building.

China's Nail Houses

Luo Baogen points at his half-demolished apartment building that stands in the middle of a newly-built highway in Wenling, China, Nov. 22, 2012. Luo Baogen, 67, and his 65-year-old wife have waged a four-year battle to receive more than the $41,300 U.S. dollars compensation offered by the loca
STR | AFP | Getty Images

In China, holdouts are called nail houses, a term attributed to the stubborn will of the owners who refuse to yield to developers, like nails that can't be pounded down.

Pictured here is one of the most famous examples, standing in the middle of a newly built road in east China's Zhejiang province, which belonged to duck farmer Luo Baogen and his wife. Soon after the nail house gained media attention in 2012, the couple sold for about $41,000 and the home was demolished. That amount was a little more than the other homeowners were offered, but still significantly less than the approximately $95,000 Baogen had just put into completing the home.

Another famous Chinese holdout story, dubbed the "coolest nail house in history," can be read here.

Washington, D.C.

A small, dilapidated row house is dwarfed by surrounding apartments in Washington, June 16, 2010.
Linda Davidson | The Washington Post | Getty Images

In 2003, Austin Spriggs refused offers of up to $3 million for his downtown Washington rowhouse (then assessed at just under $200,000) from developers intent on building condos and offices. Spriggs, who used the building for his architecture firm, stuck to his guns and his building was the last holdout, perched on the edge of a four-story pit during construction.

The word is that years later Spriggs blew his chance. Four years after those first offers, he was in foreclosure and trying to sell for $1.5 million.

In 2011 it sold for just under $800,000.

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