The Harvard Lampoon, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Begin at the very heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts — just outside the newsstand occupying the irregular triangular traffic island that is Harvard Square. Amble southeasterly along the rolling brick sidewalks, several short blocks forward and one long block leftward, and gently downhill, toward the Charles River. You will soon find yourself at the point where Bow Street acutely angles away from Mount Auburn Street. And you will be staring directly at what is quite probably the quirkiest example of all of Harvard’s architecture — the castle of The Harvard Lampoon, with its distinctive gold and purple-blue door.

And, if you are at all observant (and perhaps the slightest bit imaginative), you will quickly see that the boldly colored door is but one of the structure’s many peculiar and arresting features. For you will note a face staring back at you from the brickwork of the castle turret — a face comprised of a gaping rectilinear mouth beneath a wrought-metal red-lensed lamp of a nose and two gaping circular window-eyes in diamond-frame lids. Like a Kaiser’s helmet atop that face rises a bulbous coppered roof with a lone sculpted ibis, seemingly just escaped from the cage-like finial upon which it perches. Within the building lie both a circular humor library and a study fashioned on a Dutch fisherman’s cottage. Reportedly, only Lampoon staffers are permitted entry to the structure’s upper floors, and whatever additional oddments they may house.

The narrow ‘flat-iron’ home of The Lampoon is an eccentric amalgam of features of Flemish and Dutch architecture of the 1600s, rendered in the ubiquitous red-brown brick and buff stone accents of the Harvard environs. Constructed in 1909, the structure was designed by the renowned Boston architect (and Harvard graduate), Edmund M. Wheelwright. Though throughout his career he designed many significant buildings and bridges, including both The Boston Museum of Fine Arts and The Cleveland Art Museum, the ill-fated Mr. Wheelwright died a sanitarium resident at the age of just 57, reportedly from a nervous breakdown suffered while designing the Hartford Bridge over the Connecticut River.

Funding for the erection of The Harvard Lampoon building was provided by another former Harvard student, the future publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. A student member of the Lampoon staff in the mid-1880s, Hearst completed only a few years on the Harvard campus, before being expelled for one too many outrageous pranks.

Having a total of five actual street addresses due to its unusual shape and siting, The Harvard Lampoon building has occupied the National Register since 1978. 

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