The Magic Castle is a members-only clubhouse in the heart of Hollywood that has been conjuring up good times full of prime rib and prestidigitation since 1963. Read on to learn about the spellbinding siblings who founded it, the tricks and treats hidden inside, and how to become one of the lucky few to venture inside to mingle with magicians, famous fans, and an ivory-tickling specter.
Pasadena attorney William Larsen quit his successful day job to pursue magic full-time — touring with his wife (Geri) and two sons (Bill and Milt) as The Larsen Family of Magicians for much of 1930s and '40s — and starting an enthusiast magazine called Genii. When travel was restricted during World War II, he bought the Thayer Magic Company, held shows in the local studio, and turned his Hancock Park estate into a gathering place for magicians. In 1951, he formed the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA) and made Genii subscribers the first members.
After his death in 1955, Geri and Bill continued publishing, but his dream of building a magicians social club died with him. That is until Milt, a writer for NBC writer, decided a once glamorous, then-rundown, Franklin Avenue mansion he could see from his office would be the perfect place to revive the AMA.
The Mysterious Mansion
The gothic Edwardian home turned hocus-pocus headquarters was originally constructed as the residence of wealthy banker Rollin B. Lane and his socialite wife, Katherine, in 1909. Nicknamed Holly Chateau, it was the place to see and be seen for 30 years. When the Lanes passed away in the '40s, it was converted into a boarding house and a home for the elderly. By 1960, it was completely trashed.
After Milt made a handshake deal with the owner in 1961, the remaining Larsens renovated for almost two years, acquiring much of the decor and materials from Hollywood studios and estates and buildings scheduled for demolition. Owl Bar’s cityscape backdrop came from "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" while other pieces were featured in Dean Martin variety shows, "Hello Dolly," and "The Witches Of Eastwick." There are tin tiles from a Redondo Beach firehouse, a bar top from Hollywood High’s gym, chandeliers from a Bullock’s (a Los Angeles department store), street lamps from a Venice pier, cast-iron friezes from a Masonic Temple, and a cherub from William Randolph Hearst.
As you take your magical mystery tour of the 22,000-square-foot club, be sure to look all around, as the castle contains hidden panels, eye-fooling decor, and magical artifacts. The fun begins immediately as magic words must be said to enter the mansion. Archimedes, a taxidermy owl, answers yes or no questions. Irma the ghost takes requests on the piano. One urinal plays “It’s a Small World.” A Pepper’s Ghost prototype created for Walt Disney for the Haunted Mansion sits in the basement.
The AMA has 5,400 members from 48 states and 47 countries. The registry is a who’s who of tricksters including Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, David Blaine, Harry Blackstone (senior and junior), Doug Henning, and Dai Vernon. Neil Patrick Harris (enrolled in the young magicians program before landing Doogie Howser duty), Tony Curtis, Jason Alexander, and Cary Grant are card-carrying performing members. Other members/frequent visitors include Johnny Depp, Drew Barrymore, Colin Farrell, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Zoe Saldana.
How to Get in the Secret Door
Obviously the easiest way to gain access is to be a member. Membership has its benefits like the ability to attend shows and dinner nightly, weekend brunch (all ages), or members-only Friday lunches and events. Members also have the power to grant entrance to friends and family. Magician members can use the extensive library, attend lectures by masters of illusion, and perform impromptu magic in designated areas. Folks with a trick up their sleeve can audition to earn a magician or junior magician (ages 13-20) membership.
Associate membership is available for people 21 and over who have an appreciation, but not a talent for magic. The only catch is the six- to eight-month waiting list.
Don’t despair if you’re a mere muggle dying to see some divination. There are still a few ways to get inside:
- Befriend a member: They can take you along or get you in. Even if you know a guy, you're required to pay for a pricey California steakhouse-style meal. You can’t just go for a drink or show.
- Rent the castle: It's available for private events like weddings, business mixers, or even birthday costume party, like the one Katy Perry threw a couple years ago. On top of the cost of the event, you must purchase temporary membership.
- Stay at the Magic Castle Hotel: Book a room directly through the property or a live travel agent at the adjacent hotel and if there’s availability, they can secure you a reservation for dinner or brunch. Added perks: there’s a 24-hour free snack bar and popsicle hotline at the pool.
- Take advantage of new Hilton partnership: The brand teamed up with the castle through April 2020 and 43 of its LA, South Bay, and Orange County hotels including The Beverly Hilton and Huntington Beach’s Waterfront Beach Resort are participating. Book the Magic Castle Offer when you make the reservation and Hilton’s concierge will work to secure admission and a dining reservation (required). The offer does not cover castle costs incurred or promise availability so the earlier you book and the more flexible you are about dates, the better. Reservations must be made six to eight weeks in advance.
And everyone, no matter how they got in, must dress to impress as the club takes the formal dress code very seriously. If you show up in jeans or other verboten items, you’ll be turned away whether you're a member or not. There’s also a strict no-photography policy.