Magic has two different definitions: magic as an illusion or sleight of hand, and magic as paranormal phenomenon or an agent of the supernatural. The Magic Castle, located in Hollywood, California, prides itself on being the intersecting point of both these definitions.
Open only to magician members and their invited guests, the Castle serves as the headquarters and clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, devoted to the promotion and development of the art of magic.
On most evenings, visitors can experience a night of dining, drinking, and pretty awesome card tricks – but first, they must get past the foyer, which has no visible doors. A secret password opens a hidden entry to the main building.
Performances include highly produced shows where a very talented magician turns bunnies into doves and doves into mice. Lounge entertainment is provided by Irma, the “invisible ghost” playing any song requested of her on the Castle’s grand piano.
The labyrinthine mansion was originally one of Hollywood’s great chateau-inspired manors, built in 1909. By the 1950s, the once-grand building had passed through many hands and fallen into disrepair. In 1955 magician William Larsen formed the Academy of Magical Arts, and in 1961 William’s son Bill purchased the building and began converting it into a magic-themed clubhouse, which opened two years later as the Magic Castle.
Today the Academy boasts nearly 5000 members, all of whom must be practicing magicians. The building has been expanded and renovated many times over the years creating a decade-spanning pastiche of antiques and vintage collectables colliding with odd, theme-park-style decor in other areas. This peculiar combination and comfortably worn edges give the building a certain charm.
Downstairs in a hallway near the Hat and Hare pub, concept art and objects from Disney’s Haunted Castle line the wall, including a proof-of-concept diorama of the haunted ballroom scene, which uses a famous illusionist’s trick known as the Pepper’s Ghost illusion.
The castle serves not only as a social gathering place for magicians and magic enthusiasts, but also as an important repository of knowledge on illusions and the history of magic. There is a small museum in a downstairs theater space, dozens – if not hundreds – of historic posters, art and ephemera related to magic and famous magicians, as well as portraits honoring some of the best known. Hidden away downstairs is a research library open to members only, dedicated to books on magic.
Over the years, many stories have been told about the building’s alleged resident and visiting specters, including that of former magician-in-residence Dai Vernon. His ashes are actually kept on a high shelf outside the Parlour of Prestidigitation, where he watched shows from the front row every night until his death in 1992.
The Castle was badly damaged in a fire that broke out in October 2011 in the attic space of the building. It reopened after repairs in February 2012.
Know Before You Go
Near the 101, on Franklin Ave, Between Highland and La Brea Ave. It's a giant castle. It can't be missed.