Since 1963 the “Magic Castle” has served as the headquarters and exclusive clubhouse of the Academy of Magical Arts, a society for magicians and their guests to practice the magical arts. Today, there are more than five thousand active magicians and non-magician scholars, inventors, historians, and friends that are members of the Academy, and thus have access to the Castle situated in the hills overlooking Hollywood. The history of the Magic Castle and the Academy of Magical Arts is inextricably linked to the Larsen dynasty – two generations of a family with a keen interest in promoting magic around America and the world.
William Larsen Sr. was a Wisconsin-born
criminal attorney based in California from the beginning of the 1920s. He grew
up with a keen interest in magic, and regularly contributed to the Sphinx journal,
a periodical of the magical arts. When the editor of the Sphinx, Dr
Albert Wilson, died in 1930 Larsen expressed hopes of becoming the next
editor, but the position went to another. Therefore, together with his wife,
Gerrie, Larsen established an independent magazine in 1936: Genii, the
Conjurer’s Magazine. He went on to gain ownership of the Thayer Magic
Company, and spent many years organizing performances around the Los Angeles metropole.
In 1951 he established the Academy of Magical Arts, and granted all
current subscribers of Genii immediate membership to the society. Four
years later, William Larson passed away, but his aspirations to build a
clubhouse for magicians were unfinished.
The building itself was a private home
built between 1908 and 1910 by Rollin Lane, a banker and real estate capitalist.
Mr. Lane retired from Los Angeles in the 1940s, and Holly Chateau, as it was
then known, became a retirement home for the elderly, and then subdivided into
a number of apartments. However, by the 1960s the mansion had fallen into a
state of disrepair. In 1961 William’s son, Milt, was working from his office
overlooking the Holly Chateau, following a career as a writer for the trivia
TV-show Truth or Consequences. Together with Bill, his brother and then
president of the Academy, and many friends that were themselves keen magicians,
Milt approached the landowner of the Lane mansion: Tom Glover. Glover was a
land developer that owned many properties in the surrounding neighborhood,
including the Bernheimer Japanese mansion and gardens overlooking Franklin
Avenue. Glover agreed to lease the property to the Larsens, and the Magic
Castle was born.
It is difficult to separate truth from
fiction when it comes to the history of the Magic Castle and the activities of
the Academy. The architectural style of the structure itself is Edwardian, modeled
on the Kimberly Crest House in Redlands, California. However, the interior
decoration has been described as “larcenous eclecticism”, emphasizing that most
of the materials used to construct and decorate its rooms have been salvaged or
stolen from other places. There is stained glass from a two hundred year old
Scottish pub, an entire entrance and bar salvaged from a dilapidated house in
West Adams, and maple floorboards torn up from the administration building of Hollywood
To this day, the clubhouse remains private with admission restricted to members and their guests, or through courtesy invitations.
People under the age of 21 are not allowed to visit, and all visitors must adhere to a
strict dress code. The Academy conducts evening magic shows and other events in
thirteen different performance spaces, including the occasional séance. There
are secret doors and panels hidden throughout the building. Visitors can also
admire an extensive collection of the
world’s most famous magic memorabilia, including many belongings formerly owned
by Harry Houdini.