News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.

Hollywood's Magic Castle celebrates 50 years of wonder

Hollywood's Magic Castle.
Hollywood's Magic Castle.

Listen to story

Download this story 4MB

For 50 years, the Magic Castle in Hollywood has cast its spell on both Angelenos and visitors alike. Perched high the bustle of Hollywood in the shadow of the Hills, the 104-year-old Victorian mansion evokes an era long gone.

But it wasn't always a hideaway for purveyors of prestidigitation.

First built in 1909 by banker Rollin B. Lane, the mansion was a private residence until the 1940s when both Mr. and Mrs. Lane passed away. The home then sat vacant until it was purchased by Thomas Glover in 1955. 

The idea to create a place in Los Angeles for magicians and illusionists to practice and share trade secrets had been a dream of attorney and magician William Larsen Sr. He died in 1953, never having realized his dream. However, his sons Milt and Bill Jr. finally honored their father's wish when, in 1961, they approached Glover to ask if he'd be interested in going into business together. Thus, the Magic Castle was created. 

And it's a good thing, too. Glover's original intentions for the property were a lot less magical.  

"The original idea was to tear down the mansion and actually create a parking structure for his restaurant on top of the hill, Yamashiro," said Magic Castle general manager Joe Furlow. "In 1961, on a Texas handshake, they began the deal that lead to our opening on Jan. 2, 1963."

From the moment you enter the building, you're transported to a Disneyland-esque world where pianos are played by ghosts named Irma, and only a secret code word will grant you entry. A strict dress code prohibits casual dress; men must wear a jacket and tie, and women must don dresses, skirts or sharp pantsuits. Visitors can only attend the private club if invited by members of the Academy of Magical Arts, which has added to the allure of the mansion over the years. 

The structure was threatened in October 2011 when a fire destroyed much of the third story of the mansion. The club had to close for some time for clean-up and rebuilding.

"With our great membership and a lot of blood, sweat and tears we were able to reopen our building on Jan. 13, 2012," said Furlow. "Ever since then it has been exciting. We're up double digits in business, people are excited to come back, we have made a lot of modifications to the old building given to the fire, it gave us a chance to update a lot of our electrical and plumbing."

Many of the club's 5,000 members are recognizable names, including actor Neil Patrick Harris, who serves as the president of the Academy of Magical Arts.

"We've had a couple VIPs come to town. Johnny Thompson and his wife Pam, we had Norm Nielsen, and we had obviously Siegfried from Siegfried and Roy," said Furlow. "We had a couple video tributes by Penn and Teller as well as David Copperfield, Lance Burton. There have been a lot of great magicians over the years that have performed here."

Furlow's favorite trick:

"I like card tricks. Our chairman of the Board of Trustees is a gentleman by the name of John Armstrong, and John's slight of hand is some of the best I've ever seen. He was actually in our Palace of Mystery just last week and did a trick just with a rubber band, and the rubber band trick was something that just blew my mind."