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April 29, 2009

The Magic Castle!

The Coup de Gras of my folks' visit was getting to go to the Magic Castle, thanks to a friend of mine who is a member. The Castle is a private club for members who are magicians; it's where magicians go to practice their acts in front of other magicians. To maintain the exclusivity, no photography is allowed beyond the lobby.

To emphasize the exclusivity, there is a dress code at the Castle. Men must wear jackets and ties, and ladies must be in cocktail attire. As I don't dress up often, we made a point to get photographic evidence!

This is the actual portal from the lobby into the grand salon of the Castle. The owl on the shelf between mom and I controls the door, and won't open until you say the "magic words."

The Castle Entrance has a beautiful memorial fountain.

Gargoyles at the front door, and the stained glass transoms alongside the door.

I was so disappointed that I couldn't photograph all the stained glass inside the building! There's a ton of it, brought in from all over LA as historic buildings are torn down. It really inspired me with different color combinations that I wouldn't have chosen myself.

I don't think I'd prepped my folks well for their experience. The castle is a great maze, with several different performing venues. Most of your evening is spent waiting in line for a performance, then moving on to the next venue, which can involve a lot of walking. Luckily the friend that hosted me loves to introduce people to the Castle, is quite knowledgable about the institution and the building, and has a lot of stories to tell. He kept us entertained in all the waiting. We were able to catch three different shows in about four hours at the Castle.

The Close-up Gallery presents masters of the art of close-up magic, in the smallest of the Castle theaters (seating only 22 guests). Helder Guimaraes is a gentleman who won the international award for close up magic at the last magician's "Olympics." He did mostly card tricks, but they were impeccable. My mom was pulled up as his helper for the show, and he let her keep some cards at the end of the show, which he autographed for her.

The Parlour of Prestidigitation recreates the Victorian experience of the "parlour" (living room) magician. George Tovar is a very polished performer, who acts on television regularly. Yet he was able to retain a feeling of spontanaiety. He did his own versions of classic tricks, including the rope trick.

The W.C. Fields Bar was more of an open show, with audience coming and going at will. It was very personal, with only two rows of benches, so the magician did a lot of interactive discussion with several audience members close to him. Brian Ochab did some funny voices in his act, and did a bit with the balls hiding in cups.

We also got to see the seance room, a private room in the dining area where your party of a dozen or so is served a multiple course room and a private magician holds a seance just for your group. The room had a bunch of artifacts that once belonged to Harry Houdini.

Apart from all the magical happenings inside, the building itself is a treasure. From their website:
The Magic Castle began its life as a private home built in 1909 by banker and real estate magnate Rollin B. Lane. Mr. Lane owned much of what is now Hollywood, dreaming of turning his land into orange groves, farms and ranches.

But a severe drought brought an end to his dreams and orange blossoms never filled the valley.

After the Lane family moved away in the 1940s, the mansion was divided into a multi-family home, then became a home for the elderly, and was finally transformed into a maze of small apartments. By 1960, the fate of the Mansion was uncertain. Then Milt Larsen met the owner, Thomas O. Glover.

Milt was a writer on the NBC TV show "Truth or Consequences." His office was on the ninth floor of a Hollywood office building that overlooked the Lane mansion. Milt's late father, William W. Larsen, Sr., was a renowned magician and had long dreamed of building an elegant private club for magicians.

The Lane mansion would become that club. In September of 1961, Milt and a crew of eternally generous friends and volunteers began the extraordinary task of returning this run-down apartment building to its glorious past. After months of scraping and sanding, the rich Victorian elegance began to resurface.

The Magic Castle opened its doors at 5 p.m. on January 2, 1963. Today more than four decades later, the Castle has become the world-famous "home" to the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc.and their invited guests.
While waiting for my friend to arrive I had a chance to walk around the outside of the building and take some pictures.

The Magic Castle sits high in the Hollywood Hills, and there are beautiful views of the city all around.

When we finally left, the building looked so different at night!

If you're going:
The Magic Castle / Academy of Magical Arts
7001 Franklin Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90028-8600
Phone: 323-851-3313 Fax: 323-851-4899

Have you ever been to the Magic Castle? Are you an amatuer magician yourself? Tell me your experiences with magic in a comment below.


  1. It wears me out seeing how much running around you did with your parents last week!

    Some friends of ours have been inviting us to The Castle for awhile now but we haven't been able to get there yet. He's a member and is learning/revisiting magic.

    My husband and I were watching an old Bob Newhart show the other night and Bob was getting into a magic set, and Emily did her classic underplayed "I hate magic." And I realized I think I'm a little bit in that camp. But I still want to go to the Castle- I love the building and it's a great view up there. Did you go up to Yamashiro?

  2. As we were leaving the Castle I tried to take my folks to see the view from Yamashiro, but my dad was driving and he didn't follow my insructions, so we ended up passing it up, and then they didn't want to go back up the hill again. You're right--we'd had a busy week, so I didn't blame them. Some other time....

  3. Comment by email:
    Dear Ellen,

    I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed your recent visit to the Magic Castle.

    I sympathize with your desire to have been able to photograph all the stained glass. No doubt it was explained to you that the long standing policy is primarily for the benefit of other guests, celebrity or not, who are sensitive about the possibility of being photographed, even in the background.

    There are some practical issues as well. The backlighting of the interior glass is horribly uneven. Pictures tend to look very bad. Even the exterior glass, being windows after all, tend to show splotches of background that detract from the quality of the pictures. And the worst scenario, as you probably know, is glass that is front-lit by a camera flash.

    Also, as it turns out, there is no spot inside the Magic Castle that says you are at the Magic Castle. Your excellent exterior and lobby shots are actually about the best documentation that can be had.

    Finally, the Heritage Committee of the Magic Castle has begun photographing the stained and leaded glass. Most of it will require better lighting and reshooting, but the project is under way and will hopefully find its way to the Magic Castle website in the months to come.

    Until then, I hope you will enjoy the attached sample.

    Yours very truly,

    George W. Siegel
    Historian/Photographer, the Heritage Committee
    The Magic Castle


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