Magic Castle is Celebrating its 60th Anniversary
Academy of Magical Arts Press Release:
The world-renowned Magic Castle is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and recently Milt Larsen — who founded the club with his late brother, Bill Jr., and his late sister-in-law, Irene — celebrated his 92nd birthday at the iconic club here in Hollywood.
The Larsen family is royalty in the magic community. Remarkably, there has been a Larsen family member performing on stage continuously since the mid ‘20s, with the fourth generation now entertaining.
The History of the Magic Castle …
The parents of the club’s founders (Milt & Bill Jr.), Geri and William Larsen, Sr.—a noted Los Angeles attorney, who became disillusioned with law and left practice to pursue magic—both performed as professional magicians and are revered as pioneers in the art. Geri was the first female magician to appear on TV, as a children’s entertainer known as The Magic Lady, on KTLA in the late ‘40s.
During the Depression in the Vaudeville era of the late ’30s, the family of four began touring as the “Larsen Family of Magicians,” playing in such opulent southern California resorts as the Hotel del Coronado on San Diego’s Coronado Island and El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs. When World War II broke out, many of the luxury inns were turned into military hotels and the family stopped traveling.
In 1942, the Larsen’s purchased their Hancock Park estate, called Brookledge. Built in 1933 by the founder of the famed L.A. Thayer Magic Company, the Larsens not only purchased the home, but the beloved magic company as well. Brookledge became an informal gathering place for the top echelon of the magic community of the day. A theatre behind the main house became the stage for virtually every famous name in the magic world. Bess Houdini was a guest. Brookledge, which remains in the family today, is often referred to as the “forerunner to the Magic Castle.”
Retired from life on the road and now managing the magic apparatus company, Bill Sr., dreamed of opening an elegant, private clubhouse for magicians, but died in 1953 at just 48.
Prior to opening the club, the Larsen boys each had successful careers in television. A performer, writer and producer, Milt was a staff writer at Ralph Edwards TV Productions for 18 years for the iconic NBC game show Truth or Consequences. He later appeared as a guest on the show himself as a founder of the Magic Castle and became lifelong friends with host Bob Barker. Bill Jr. began his career in TV at CBS, working his way up to associate producer of Playhouse 90 and the Danny Kaye and Jonathan Winters variety shows.
It was from a window of the Ralph Edwards offices on Hollywood Boulevard that Milt spied the run-down, French Chateau-style mansion on the hill, which later became The Magic Castle (7001 Franklin Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028). The home was originally constructed as the residence of Rollin B. Lane, a wealthy real estate investor and philanthropist and his socialite wife, built among Los Angeles’ orange groves in 1909. Having most recently served as a boarding house and in a state of disrepair, it boasted 17 rooms, a roof garden and a sun parlor.
On a handshake in 1962 with the property’s owner, Thomas O. Glover — who also owned Yamashiro restaurant which sits atop the hill overlooking the club — Milt and Bill Jr. leased the club and fulfilled their father’s dream. Milt managed hands-on renovations of the landmark home and Bill Jr. supervised business affairs. Much of the ornate décor was rescued from the wrecking ball on the demolition sites of vintage estates or from Hollywood studio sets before being dumped into the trash.
When the club opened its doors on Jan. 2, 1963, its launch was noted in the Jan. 14th issue of Newsweek (with recently disgraced Congressman Wilbur Mills on the cover). Bill Jr.’s wife — known as Princess Irene around the club — became the club’s much-beloved ambassador, always there to greet guests. Both Milt and Bill Jr. continued to perform magic, Bill Jr. with his wife, Irene.
Now celebrating its 60th anniversary, the nearly 6,000 members of the Academy of Magical Arts include a who’s who in magic and hail from 48 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and 40 countries.