An enchanting castle sits atop a hill above Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, a longstanding institution.
While the surrounding film and television studios spin illusions from light and shadow, this stalwart of the city makes magic the old-fashioned way – with hat tricks, card decks and sleight of hand. The Magic Castle is the ultimate ticket. An invite-only club since its inception in 1963, the castle is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2023, as the Larsen family – which has operated the club since the beginning – continues to welcome and amaze guests of all ages night after night.
Erika Larson is the daughter of Bill Larsen, Jr. Along with his brother Milt, Bill carried out the vision of creating a magician’s club on a 1962 handshake deal with the property’s then-owner Thomas O. Glover.
“The owner was going to tear it down,” Erika said. “And my uncle convinced them to give him a year. So, he did. And one year turned into another year into another year into another year. And here we are 60 years later.”
Glover owned many properties in the Hollywood area, including the famed Yamashiro restaurant. The 1909 French Chateau-style mansion that would become the Magic Castle, originally constructed for real estate investor and philanthropist Rollin B. Lane, had fallen into disrepair, with the large property having most recently served as a boarding house. The Larsen brothers set about updating the home into a den of magic. Milt handled the renovations, salvaging ornate furniture pieces from film sets and demolition sites of vintage estates. Bill was in charge of business affairs. On Jan. 2, 1963, the Magic Castle opened its doors for the first time. By the late-1960s, famous people regularly appeared at the castle. Cary Grant was even on the board of directors.
“He performed magic. He had started out in vaudeville,” Erika said. “He performed at some of our award shows.”
The dream of the castle predated Milt and Bill, however. The family had toured the country in vaudeville as “The Larsen Family of Magicians.” Their parents, William and Geri, settled in Hancock Park in 1942 at the former home of the L.A. Thayer Magic Company founder, a magic company they also bought. Their home, Brookledge, became an informal gathering space for the magic community, with luminaries like Bess Houdini among the guests.
Both William and Geri made names for themselves in the world of magic, with Geri becoming KTLA’s “Magic Lady” in the late-1940s with a children’s entertainment program. William started the Academy of Magical Arts in 1952, which today boasts about 6,000 members.
“My grandfather wanted this club for magicians without politics, just for magic lovers,” Erika said.
When William died the following year, his sons kept the magic alive, and a decade later opened the Magic Castle, which has remained the preeminent magician hub worldwide ever since. While William was never able to see this dream reach fruition, Erika said that he would be proud of the family legacy because this “was all he ever wanted.”
A typical night at the club involves a dinner and several magic shows.
“People generally come up with guests, and they have a nice dinner,” Erika said. “And then there are magic shows throughout the castle. So, on any given night … you could easily see five magic shows.”
Magician Eric Buss has been performing at the Magic Castle since 1996, 27 years of the institution’s 60 year-history.
“The audiences are always amazing. They come mentally prepared for magic,” Buss said. “You can always find somebody to connect with in the audience. We are spoiled there.”