A point of interest on the Lost Souls of Hollywood Boulevard GPS-guided audio walking tour.
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The Magic Castle describes itself as “the most unusual private club in the world”—which, depending on your opinion of magicians, might be accurate. It is a club for magicians, illusionists and magic enthusiasts, and boasts not only a series of performance rooms but also a bar, library, private dining areas and even the Houdini Séance room. But the magical club didn’t open until 1963, the original three-storey Edwardian-era mansion was built by Los Angeles banker and real estate tycoon Rollin B. Lane sometime between 1908 and 1910, and the Lane family resided there until the 1940s.
The Magic Castle is actually the clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, which was started by Los Angeles criminal attorney William W. Larsen, who, when he wasn’t helping out the local area gangsters (we assume) was dabbling in some side magic. Larsen was pretty into magic and contributed tricks to a magazine for magicians called The Sphinx before starting one of his own Genii, the Conjurer’s Magazine. Larsen liked magic so much that in 1936 when he started Genii he quit his law practice to pursue his magical side hustle full-time.
In 1951, after carting his wife and two sons, Bill and Mitt, around on his illusion road tour for a few years, Larsen announced the creation of the Academy of Magic. It’s goal was to “foster the appreciation and advancement of all aspects of magic as a performing art” and Larsen dreamed of one day opening an official clubhouse for the Academy. Unfortunately, he passed away a mere four years later in 1955, and never got to see his dreams come to fruition.
Luckily, Larsen’s sons were also pro magic. Bill, the oldest, was a TV producer for CBS, and his younger brother Mitt, a writer for NBC’s hit show Truth or Consequences, in 1961 when they signed a 40-year lease for the property that was soon to become their father’s dream magical clubhouse. Two years later, on January 2, 1963, the Magic Castle’s doors were officially opened, and it’s been operating ever since.
Now, to get into the Magic Castle, you actually have to say open sesame to an owl statue on a bookcase in the lobby. The wall will slide open and voila, you’re in. On the main floor is a 22-seat theatre called the Close-up Gallery, that features a performance space for tabletop sleight of hand and a baby grand piano that’s haunted by Invisible Irma. Irma was a friend of the home’s original owners, the Lane family, and a piano enthusiast, she used to play the baby grand piano when she visited. Yes, the piano featured in the Close-up Gallery is the original—it was customary at the time for prominent families to display a fancy piano as such, but none of the Lane’s actually played. In fact, Mr. Lane was not a music fan at all (or maybe it was more that he just didn’t like Irma’s playing) and had the piano removed from its prominent main entrance display to the third-floor tower where it sat untouched beside a guest room. Irma was not a fan of this move and took it as a personal slight (which it might have been) and vowed that she would come back and haunt the building. She died in 1932, and since then has been entertaining guests with piano tunes. Today, an empty bird cage sits by the piano for Irma’s canary—and if you slip a tip into the cage, the bird will chirp.
But Irma isn’t the only ghost lurking around the Magic Castle these days. In the 1970s, the membership of the clubhouse increased and so an annex was added that included the Parlour of Prestidigitation which has seating for 60, along with the Palace of Mystery theatre that can seat 120. Outside the Palace you’ll find an old wooden phone booth, and if you enter the booth and close the door you might find yourself staring face-to-face with the reflection of a skeleton. Not only that, but the voices of unseen women and men are often heard. And workers and club members of the Castle try to do their best to remember to turn on the Place’s ghost light, which stays on for “safety reasons” but nights that it’s forgotten the ghosts enter the area and play tricks on the room’s electrical.
The Magic Castle formerly had an underground garage but that too was transformed into a performance space and screening room, that adjoins the basement library and the WC Fields Bar to adapt to their growing membership. And the Parlour, featured in the basement, is haunted by an “unknown entity” that likes to flick lights on when no one’s around.
The older of the Larsen brothers, Bill, is also still lurking around the Magic Castles. When workers start chatting about him, the Grandfather clock in the house starts to go wild, regardless of the time. Footsteps, noises and voices are all reported by staff, there’s a ghost bartender who serves patrons behind the bar in the haunted cellar, and, finally, the ghost of former greeter and resident performer Jay Ose can also be found in the haunted cellar chilling visitors and wine alike.
The Magic Castle today is a private club open to members and their guests, so sadly you and I can’t just go waltzing in for dinner. But if you happen to know a member, magician or are one yourself, you might be lucky enough to visit the ghosts of this magical place.
If you're looking at Magic Castle, turn around and cross Franklin Avenue at the crosswalk. We're going to head south down the north orange drive sidewalk, on the left side of the street.
Each POI has a fun multiple choice trivia challenge you can test your skills on.
The trivia questions are separate from the commentary and completely optional.
The app keeps score for you so you can challenge your friends and family.