8 Architectural Wonders Built in the Name of Love
The Taj Mahal, built to commemorate a Mughal emperor’s favorite wife, isn’t the only architectural marvel with a romantic (if tragic) backstory. Throughout history, people have expressed their love with large-scale construction projects—because sometimes flowers and a box of chocolates don’t quite cut it. Here are eight monuments to love in its various forms.
1. BOLDT CASTLE // NEW YORK
, located on Heart Island in Alexandria Bay, New York, is a beautiful building with a tragic story. In 1900 George Boldt, proprietor of New York City’s famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, commissioned a team of over 300 workers to build a 120-room castle as a gift to his wife, Louise. George’s love for his wife was so great that he spared no expense in the design, which included tunnel systems, Italian gardens, and a drawbridge.
In 1904, Louise Boldt died of “apparent heart failure” (although there are rumors of a drug overdose) and George ordered that construction stop immediately. Unable to imagine living in the meticulously planned house without the love of his life, Boldt abandoned the project. He never returned to Heart Island.
For 73 years the castle sat as an unfinished memorial to his lost love, falling into disrepair. In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the site and opened the castle to the public, using funds earned from tours to restore the building to its intended glory.
2. MYSTERY CASTLE // ARIZONA
In the foothills of South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, sits the Mystery Castle, built in the 1930s by a man named Boyce Luther Gully. Originally from Seattle, Gully had a daughter, Mary Lou, whom he often entertained with tales of castles and dragons. He’d even promised to one day build her a castle. But when Mary Lou was 5, Gully received a diagnosis of tuberculosis, a fatal disease back then. Gully dealt with the news by setting off for Arizona without telling his daughter—or the rest of his family—where he was going.
But in 1945, when Mary Lou was 22, she received a letter from her father. He wrote from his deathbed to tell her he’d built her a castle. Despite everything, he’d kept his word: Employed part-time as a shoe salesman to afford building materials, Boyce had labored alone to build an assortment of towers and rooms out of stone, cement, car parts, and other salvaged materials. He also made frequent trips over the border to Mexico to shop for decorations.
Shortly after receiving the letter, Mary Lou and her mother relocated from Seattle to Arizona to take up residence in the amazing architectural curiosity—an 18-room multi-level stone mansion full of secret compartments stuffed with coins, jewelry, and even gold nuggets. The Mystery Castle had no electricity or running water when they moved in, so Mary Lou and her mother had to shower at a nearby gas station.
Boyce also installed a trap door that he instructed was not to be opened until 1948. When the day arrived, Mary Lou found a time capsule of sorts—complete with a picture of her father, a note he’d written to Mary Lou, two $500 bills, and a Valentine’s Day card that she’d given to him as a child.
Mary Lou lived in the Mystery Castle until her death in 2010, and often gave guided tours. Today, the castle is open for tours Thursday through Sunday.
3. DOBROYD CASTLE // ENGLAND
The couple behind Dobroyd Castle in Todmorden, England, may have been doomed from the start.
John Fielden was the son of a wealthy mill owner who fell in love with a working-class weaver named Ruth Stansfield. When he asked her to marry him, she said yes, but reportedly only on the stipulation that he build her a castle.
Most men would probably have taken the hint, but Fielden called her bluff and agreed. They married in 1857, and in 1866 Fielden hired architect John Gibson to design and built the castle. With 66 rooms, stables for 17 horses, and the monogram “JFR” carved in a dozen locations around the building, you could hardly say it was a subtle gesture of love.
However, it wasn’t exactly an enduring love. John soon decided that in order to climb the social ladder, he ought to send his wife to a finishing school in Switzerland. That evidently didn’t sit well with Ruth, since upon her return she became more and more alienated from her husband until her death in 1877. John, who had been crippled by a horse in 1873, remarried soon thereafter (this time to a lady of higher social standing) and remained in the castle until his death in 1893.
Since then, Dobroyd Castle has served as a boys’ school, a Buddhist centre, and most recently an activity center for school groups.
4. CORAL CASTLE // FLORIDA
A sign carved in stone at the entrance to Coral Castle reads “You Will Be Seeing Unusual Accomplishment.” It’s an accurate statement, but it certainly doesn’t tell you the whole story.
Edward Leedskalnin was 26 years old in 1913 and living in Riga, Latvia, when he got engaged to the love of his life, Agnes Scuffs, who was then 16. One day before their wedding, however, Agnes called the whole thing off. A heartbroken Edward spent a few years moving between Canada, California, and Texas before settling in Florida in 1918. There he decided to start building a monument to his unrequited love—something that would become a lifelong project.
He began building huge coral rock sculptures in his Florida City home, but in 1936 bought 10 acres of land in nearby Homestead and relocated the entire project himself. By 1940, he had single-handedly created an incredible structure complete with towers, fountains, ornate furniture, and sculptures. In all, it’s estimated he sculpted around 1100 tons of coral rock using only rudimentary tools and a series of pulleys and levers. The feat is particularly impressive considering he was only a little over 5 feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds—and reportedly worked only at night to maintain his privacy.
5. SWALLOW’S NEST CASTLE // CRIMEA
Like something from a gothic horror, the castle known as Swallow’s Nest looms over a cliff edge overlooking the Crimean Sea. The original building on the site was a wooden structure, constructed in 1895 and named “The Castle of Love.” But it’s unclear whether it was built for the love of a woman, love of country, or simply as a place for romantic escapades.
The Castle of Love’s second owner was A.K. Tobin, the doctor to the tsar, who gifted the castle to his wife. She sold it in 1903 and the property changed hands a few more times until 1911, when German oil man Baron von Steinhel became the owner. The homesick Baron had the wooden structure demolished and a new stone structure built in its stead. Evoking his love of the Neo-Gothic architecture of his homeland, the impressive building still hangs over the edge of the cliff today, having even survived an earthquake in 1927. Its striking aesthetic even made appearances in several Soviet films.
Since the ’70s though, it’s been operated as an Italian restaurant—surely the setting for many a romantic evening.
6. THE PETIT TRIANON // FRANCE
You may have noticed a pattern with many of these romantic structures: they rarely turn out according to plan. The Petit Trianon is no exception.
Designed in 1762 by Ange-Jacques Gabriel at the request of Louis XV, the Petit Trianon was originally built for the king’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Destined for Versailles park, it was meant to mirror the pre-existing Marble Trianon (subsequently renamed The Grand Trianon) building already on the estate, and was greatly influenced by the “Greek Style” then sweeping Europe.
Sadly, Madame de Pompadour died four years before the building was finished, and upon its completion in 1768 it was given to her successor, Madame du Barry. She occupied and decorated the home until Louis XV’s death in 1774.
Louis XVI then took the throne and gifted the Petit Trianon to his young wife—and arguably the most famous inhabitant of the palace—Marie-Antoinette. During the French Revolution, the Trianon became a hostel, before none other than Napoleon Bonaparte had the palace restored for his sister, Pauline.
In 1867, Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III and a Marie-Antoinette fanatic) converted the Petit Trianon into a museum dedicated to the life and memory of Marie-Antoinette. It continues to serve that function to this day.
7. ASHTON MEMORIAL // ENGLAND
Known locally as the “Taj Mahal of the North,” the Ashton Memorial sits on top of a hill in Williamson Park in Lancaster, England. Local millionaire and industrialist Lord Ashton (sometimes called “the Lino King of Lancaster”) had the 150-foot structure built in memory of his second wife Jessie, who died in 1904.
Designed by Sir John Belcher and built using Portland stone with a copper dome, the memorial has been open to the public since 1909 and provides incredible panoramic views of the nearby bays. The memorial also hosts occasional art exhibitions, concerts, and, of course, weddings.
It’s perhaps worth noting that despite spending the equivalent of about $9 million in today's money on the memorial, Lord Ashton remarried a few months before the building was opened to the public.
8. KODAI-JI TEMPLE // JAPAN
The oldest structure on this list—Kodai-Ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan—is also the only one masterminded by a woman.
Built in 1606 and officially named Kodaiji-jushozenji Temple, the ornate structure was established by Kita-no-Mandokoro in memory of her husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who died in 1598. Kita-no-Mandokoro later became a priestess at the temple and assumed the name Kodaiin Kogetsuni. She stayed at the temple until her death in 1624.
The temple today consists of an ornate garden (said to have been designed by the legendary landscape artist Kobori Enshū), a main building that was rebuilt in 1912 after extensive fire damage, and the Otama-ya—a sanctuary with shrines dedicated to both Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kita-no-Mandokoro. The temple also houses a Jinbaori (a coat worn over armor) that once belonged to Hideyoshi, woven with gold and silver thread.
The temple gardens are a nationally designated historic site and many of the items in the shrine are considered by Japan to be important cultural assets. Fittingly, both Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kita-no-Mandokoro are also buried onsite.