The Magic Castle
The Magic Castle with the Bernheimer Japanese mansion and gardens in the background (www.image-archeology.com)
The Magic Castle during renovation (www.magiccastle.com)
Interior of the Magic Castle today (main.otiserver.com)
Backstory and Context
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 High School.
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.