Circling the Square
Amid beer mugs and squat oak tables, a group of Lampon pundits gathered solemnly in 1901 to discuss a new proposal. The Lampoon, despite its ample "beer nights," had cleared one-thousand dollars that year, and the Treasurer hoped to use the money to begin a building fund. The idea was accepted enthusiastically, for Lampy had already outgrown two homes, Thayer Hall and a room on Mt. Auburn Street. The third location, a small closet in a former Holyoke Street church, was equally unsatisfactory.
Aside from physical discomforts, Poonsters wanted a new building because they felt that more congenial surroundings would improve their writing. Though Lampoon humor had not yet become jaded, President Muir complained that a bleak atmosphere discouraged the editors. The Lampoon, he wrote during a campaign for donations, "tends to consist of one man who gets the paper out alone."
Whether the new building remedied this problem has since been debated, but the fund-raising campaign, boosted by William Randolph Hearst, was a cheering success. Soon a triangular lot bounded by Plympton, Bow, and Mt. Auburn Streets was purchased, and architect Edmund Wheelwright, one of the Lampoon founders, was commissioned to design the building.
Believing that 16th century Dutch architecture would blend well with the Gold Coast surroundings, Wheelwright hoped to design a Flemish castle in miniature. Once the plans were approved, he sailed to Holland, and traveling through the canals by tugboat, spent two years gathering the antiques and curios that were later to adorn the walls of 44 Bow Street. The building was at last completed at a cost of only $40,000.
Dedicated on Feb. 19, 1910, the Lampoon has changed little in forty-four years. A few broken, but ancient plates still hanging on the walls suggest that its serenity has often been disturbed by flying beer bottles. But most of the antiques remain intact, witnesses to Lampy's reputation of museum as well as publication.
Perhaps the building's most striking feature is its fine collection of Delft tiles. Each white and blue square is incorporated into intricate patterns which decorate many of the walls and window casements. These tiles are especially prominent on the first floor, and liberally sprinkle the Public Vestibule and Sanctum. Other first floor rooms include the President's office, business office, and the Narthex, a lobby opening into the Sanctum. Besides antiques, the lower quarters display posters and souvenirs gathered through seventy-eight years of publication.
The top level, reached by a winding stairway in the tower, is divided into the Nest, workroom for artists; the tower room, furnished chiefly with a moth-eaten Ibis; and the Great Hall. This last is the most impressive, reserved for Lampy's state occasions. At first glance, it seems extremely large because of a foreshortened perspective and triangular shape. The Hall's main features include a large, carved mantelpiece of Elizabethan vintage, serpentine electric light brackets, and suits of Japanese armor. A solid oak table stands in the center, and is deeply carved with the initials of early members who had heard that the editors of Punch possessed a similar piece. Huge oak beams form a ceiling of gothic arches, and the sun streams diagonally through leaded windows flecked with remnants of ancient stained glass. The building's Cambridge debut caused no little comment from local journalists. Most outspoken was the Evening Transcript, which called it an "architectural joke."
Since its secret dedication ceremonies of 1910, the Lampoon building has been the scene of more turbulent, sometimes ostentatious events. These years are marked by feuds with other publications, in which some of Lampy's treasures have been borrowed temporarily. Though the Ibis is the most notorious example, other objects have served as well. Once, when the Lampoon's bound volumes of Punch disappeared, the President remarked that the organization would have to suspend publication for lack of material.
The '30's were especially eventful. A controversial parody of Esquire brought University wrath, and the building was padlocked for a short time. Cambridge police found the most objectionable item a drawing of a voluptuous nude entitled "What the Bride Will Wear." And the depression also brought financial difficulties, to the delight of CRIMSON editors, who twice plastered "For Sale" signs on the Lampoon door.
Finances have always figured prominently in Lampoon affairs, however, especially since its present home was built. Efforts to make the magazine more solvent included the renting of shops on its Plympton Street side. One of the most famous of these was a basement restaurant called "John's Petit Lunch." Even as early as 1916, John P. Marquand wrote in an article for the Transcript: "The Lampoon has come into almost more than its own. That is, it is still paying for its building on the installment plan."
Now that the building nears the half-century mark, the need for repairs makes problems of money even more pressing. During the war an "Overseas Issue" published through the efforts of W. B. Wheelwright, President '01, garnered $3,000, most of which was earmarked for needed restoration. More serious repairs, particularly a new tiled roof, are planned. Often during Cambridge's ample rains, rivulets of water trickle down the rough, brick walls, and gathering in pools on the floor of the Great Hall, remind Blot and Jester that the Lampoon needs renovation once again.