The Micro-House that Neighborly Love Built in 1932

Before NMS Properties became known for building micro-apartments in Santa Monica and promoting the minimalist lifestyle of living intentionally small, there was Nathan T. Seely, the man who built one of the first known micro-houses in New York.

Sure, there have been many small homes, but this one was recently registered as a State and National Historic Place due in part to the moving and very interesting story of its builder and the home!

In the early 1900’s when racism was still quite prevalent in the United States, African-American carpenter Nathan T. Seely and his brother formed Seely Brothers Inc., a company through which they built homes in New York for other African-Americans fleeing the South as what is now historically known as  the Great Migration.

According to the submission to the National Park Service, which oversees the national register, the Seely Brother’s sales brochure, entitled ‘Homes For Colored People’, opened with a paragraph stating , “Every colored man needs a home.”.  The Seely brothers bought tracts of land in Mamaroneck, New York, and built houses, duplexes and multifamily buildings for other African-Americans who were still often denied housing in the somewhat progressive North due to the color of their skin.

bochure

Unfortunately, after the stock market crash of 1929, Mr. Seely’s business, like so many others, could no longer afford to operate.  Not only did he, his brother and all of their employees lose their jobs, but like many other Americans during the Great Depression, Nathan T. Seely lost his own home.

Sympathizing with his plight, an Italian-American neighbor, Panfino Santangelo, gave Mr. Seely a 12.5-foot by 100-foot strip of land on which to build his family a new home.  Mr. Santangelo did accept $1 from Mr. Seely in order to form the contract.

While the plot of land, located next to Mr. Santagelo’s own home, was a huge help, Seely still needed building materials.  Although it was out of necessity and not an intentional act of “building green” as many do in modern times, Mr. Seely salvaged and recycled the materials that he would use to build his new home.

Seely completed the construction of his ten-foot-wide and thirty seven foot long “Skinny House” in 1932 by combining “found” items such as railroad ties and a chicken coop with salvaged pieces from abandoned structures such as windows and banisters.  In the end, his narrow “micro-house” was three-stories tall and included a cellar, a living room, a kitchen with pantry, two bedrooms and one bathroom.

home

After Mr. Seely’s death in 1962, the home remained in his family with relatives living in the “Skinny House” until 1982 when it was purchased by the daughter of Mr. Santagelo, the neighbor who had originally given land to Seely.  All of those years later, the Santagelo’s still lived next door the “Skinny House”!  The purchase price went to Mr. Seely’s daughter who at that point, due to poor health, moved into a retirement facility.

You can find more information about the “Skinny House” and a book dedicated to its history HERE.