Edith Macefield became probably the most famous real-estate holdout in America in 2004 when the 84-year-old widow refused to sell her Seattle house to the developer of a commercial project in her neighborhood. She was the lone holdout and photos of her house spread across the internet like wildfire. She was compared to fictional Carl Fredricksen from the movie "UP." Disney even used the house in a promotion for the movie. She was an inspiration for millions who saw her as the little guy (or, in this case, little old lady) standing up to the encroachment of "the man." Throughout the holdout, the construction of the Trader Joe's continued around her, and Edith became friends with the construction workers that were walling off her house with the commercial building. She became such good buddies with the construction manager, Barry Martin, that when she passed away in 2006, she left the house to him. He was proud to take ownership.
If you look closely at Macy's flagship department store in Herald Square in New York City, you'll notice that one corner looks out of place. Look even closer and you'll see the reason it is out of place is that there is a small, 5-story building in the corner that the rest of Macy's wraps around. Today, it is the famous "Macy's Bag," but originally it was a classic case of a guy holding out, trying to get as much as he could for his property.
In 1902, Macy's relocated from its original location at the corner of 14th & 6th in Manhattan and moved to its now iconic location on 34th Street in Herald Square. Two years previous to that, a man named Robert H. Smith bought the property at the corner of 34th & Broadway, on behalf of another department store, Siegel-Cooper. You see, at the time Siegel-Cooper was the largest department store in the world, and they did not want to give the title to Macy's, so Smith and Siegel-Cooper figured they could block Macy's from building the largest store in the world by owning the small parcel of land at the corner. It didn't work. Macy's simply built around the plot of land, and when it opened in 1902, Macy's became the largest store in the world.
The building got it's nickname "The Million Dollar Corner" when Smith sold the building in 1911 for one million bucks, the first real estate deal to cross that magic threshold.
Since the 40s, Macy's has had a deal with the owners of the building that allows them to advertise on the small building, but to this day Macy's does not own it.
Back when Donald Trump was just a famous real estate developer, he gave everyone a little preview of what it's like for people that get in his way when Michael Forbes, a farmer in Scotland, refused to sell his mother's farm to Trump, who was building a golf course outside of Aberdeenshire.
Forbes, for his part, told Trump he'd never sell, no matter what. To this day, he hasn't. Forbes has become a folk hero in Scotland as a result. Another case of the little guy taking on the big guy and winning - Trump built the golf course, but he never built the hotel.
Before Donald Trump got into a row with Scottish Farmer Michael Forbes, he had another legendary standoff with a holdout in Atlantic City, NJ. The story starts well before Trump though.
In 1978, the publisher of Penthouse Magazine, Bob Guccione, set about building a Penthouse Hotel and Casino on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. In the way was one Vera Coking, whose house he would need to build his casino. Vera didn't care. She wasn't going to sell her home, a former boarding house, just feet from the beach and the famous boardwalk. It is rumored that Guccione offered as much as million dollars to sell, but she still said no.
As a result, like many other holdouts on this list, construction started and soon Vera's house was surrounded by steel and scaffolding. Then, in 1980, Guccione's project went broke, and the construction stopped. The bones of the buildings stood for another 13 years, with Vera's house plum in the middle. The half-completed project was finally torn down in 1993. But Vera's fighting wasn't over.
That same year, Donald Trump bought the property and intended to expand his casino, located next door. His plan was to build a driveway and parking lot for his Trump Plaza Casino. And you guessed it, Vera still refused to sell.
In 1998 Trump took her to court in an attempt to take the house by eminent domain, but the courts sided with Vera. And yes, Trump attacked her in the press, call her house "slum-like," which is one of his favorite terms in these situations it seems. The Trump Plaza went broke in 2014 and closed, and shortly after, the house, which had been auctioned off the previous summer, was demolished.
With the economy and a construction boom going through the roof in China, it's not surprising that there are a lot of real estate holdouts. Just look at the transformation of Shanghai over the last 20 or 30 years and you can assume that there have been some headaches for Chinese developers. Traditional China meets modern China all the time and often the results are pretty spectacular. These holdout's houses are traditionally called "nail houses" in China, as they and their occupants are said to be tough as nails to move.
Take the case of Wu Ping and her husband Yang Wu. In March of 2007, a court in China ruled the couple must vacate the house in the city of Chongqing. Yang refused and took up squatting in the house while construction went on around it. Ping would shuttle in supplies using a rope, as the construction eventually cut the house off completely, leaving it alone at the top a man-made hill in the middle of construction.
The holdout would only last a couple weeks however and eventually, Wu Ping left for an apartment the developers gave to the couple. But the short holdout did make for some pretty spectacular photos.
Maybe the most famous of the Nail Houses in China is the house of farmer Luo Baogen outside Wenling, China. In 2014, the Chinese government cleared a village with about 1000 people in it to make way for a highway. It's the kind of project that happens all over the world, but rarely do people holdout like Luo did. Luo held out for so long that they were forced to build the highway around the house he had lived in for many years, raising and selling ducks.
Eventually, Luo gave up his fight and accepted a deal from the government and his house was demolished and the highway was completed.
There is a lawyer in downtown Portland that held out against two major forces. First, the city's public transportation system tried to take it, then Portland State University tried to take it to be part of a major residence hall project.
Randal Acker owns the house, which he named the "Figo House," after his dog, and he uses it as the office for his one-man law firm. His fight has drawn many comparisons to that of his Northwest neighbor in Seattle, Edith Macefield. Acker even attached a huge bunch of balloons to the house, ala "UP" just like Edith Macefield had. Now his office is surrounded on three sides by college kids, as Portland State built their housing around him, but it's still all his!
St. Joseph Catholic Church in San Antonio, TX has a rich cultural history. It was built just after the Civil War ended, a couple blocks away from the Alamo and has been a pillar of the neighborhood ever since. As a Catholic Church, it served the German community of San Antonio for 100 years. Most recently, it has been more multicultural, with masses in English and Spanish.
But despite all the good St. Joseph's has done over the years, it is famous for a very different reason. St. Joseph's is the Chinese nail house of Texas. In 1944, the San Antonio-based Joske's Department Store was looking to move its flagship store, and it eyed the spot where St. Joseph's was located as the perfect location. The parishioners of St. Joseph's disagreed and unanimously voted to NOT sell to the developers. The problem was, Joske's had acquired all the other land around them, so they built their store around the church.
Today, the mall still surrounds it and San Antonioans have a nickname for the church - St. Joske's.
Sometimes, both sides win in a real estate holdout. True, an outcome that both the developer and the owner are both happy with is exceedingly rare, but it can happen. Take the case of the Gate Tower Building in Osaka, Japan. The owners wanted to take advantage of a new highway being built nearby and made plans to construct a skyscraper. The problem was, the government decided that an off ramp for the new highway was needed right where the building was going to be constructed.
After some negotiation, a deal was struck that worked for everyone. The offramp would pass DIRECTLY THROUGH THE BUILDING. And so it does. The offramp was built with noise and vibration suppressors, so it doesn't bother the workers in the building while it passes directly through what would be the 5th-7th floors of the 16-story building.
Sometimes, enough is enough. In 1892, a small jewelry store in London, England called Spiegelhalter Jewelry, owned for almost a century by the Spiegelhalter family, moved down the street from its location to accommodate the expansion of their neighbors, Wickham's Department Store. 30 years later, The Spiegelhalters were asked to move their shop again, as Wickham's was expanding again. Wickham's had grand plans to build a department store that would rival the other famous London department store like Selfridges and Harrod's.
One problem - The Spiegelhalters were done with moving. They had moved once, they weren't doing it again and no amount of money was going to get them off their spot. As a result, Wickham's was forced to build around them. Almost a century later and both companies are out of business. Wickham's closed in the 1960s and Spiegelhalter in the 1980s, but both buildings still remain.
Tokyo's Narita International Airport was the most violent real-estate holdout story on this list. The story begins in 1966 when plans were drawn up by the Japanese government to build a new airport to relieve the congestion at Tokyo's old airport. Socialist radicals opposed the plan for a number of reasons and teamed up with local farmers to try to stop the construction. Violent clashes with police occurred when the area was fenced off for construction and flared up throughout the entire process. The farmers and the socialists fought hard, and violently, but the airport was eventually built and opened in 1978 under military-like security - almost 5 years after it was completed!
But - there are still some farmers that successfully held out and their farms can be seen, surrounded by runways, in aerial shots of the airport.
The battles were so brutal, that a few years later, Japan decided to build Osaka's new airport on reclaimed land on what was the ocean, rather than farmland.
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