Harvard Lampoon Castle

Cambridge, Massachusetts | C.1909

Photo Credit: Matthew Dickey

There’s a bit of humor to be found in the streets of Harvard University. Constructed in 1909, the Harvard Lampoon Building on Bow Street was built for Harvard’s undergraduate humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon. Also known as the Harvard Lampoon Castle, if one looks closely, they can see a Prussian soldier wearing a spiked helmet.

Designed by architect Edmund Wheelwright – a Harvard alum and founder of The Harvard Lampoon – the Castle’s unique design was inspired by an old church in Virginia and the Flemish Renaissance architecture found around Cambridge. During its construction, he traveled to Europe to acquire the building’s furnishings including windows from Belgium, an Elizabethan mantelpiece, and 17th-century tiles from the Netherlands.

At $40,000, the Castle was the most expensive headquarters for a college newspaper in the U.S. at the time. Upon its completion, it housed the Harvard Lampoon offices, meeting spaces, and a used book shop called Starr Books. Media giant William Randolph Hearst gifted the Castle a copper statue of an ibis, which is frequently stolen and returned as part of a feud with rival Harvard newspaper, The Harvard Crimson.

Although beloved by many, the Castle was hated by some. In 1961, Cambridge Mayor Anthony Vellucci hated the building so much that he called it one of the ugliest in the world and proposed to turn it into a public bathroom. Instead, he planted a tree in front to block views of the building. The tree was felled in 1991.

Since then, the Castle has continued to serve as the headquarters for The Harvard Lampoon. Some of the world’s great literary and comedic voices have emerged from its doors including Conan O’Brien and John Updike. Lampoon graduates have also gone on to write for Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Senifeld, and The Office.

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