Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Magic Castle

Many decades ago I became acquainted with The Magic Castle, a private club in Los Angeles for magicians, when it was prominently featured in an episode of "Columbo." In this particular episode, the redoubtable Lt. Columbo had to figure out how the villain, played by the late Jack Cassidy, was seemingly able to be in two places at once: performing on stage in front of an audience while committing a murder in an adjacent office. What I didn't know then was that The Magic Castle is much more than a performing hall for magicians. It is the home for the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc., an exclusive group of 5,000 magicians who promotes the ancient art of magic and attempts to preserve its history. The Magic Castle is more than a clubhouse. It is a research library, an archives, a fine dining establishment, several bars and three different performing areas. Rare pictures, posters, caricatures and other memorabilia line the walls while magicians and their invited guests enjoy spectacular meals and some of the very best magic shows within four floors of the mansion. Originally built as a private residence in 1908 for Rollin Lane, a banker and real estate tycoon who owned much of present Hollywood, The Magic Castle underwent conversion into a multi-family dwelling and later served as a nursing home before being transformed into a private club for magicians in 1963. Famous performing professional magicians like Marc Wilson and amateurs like Johnny Carson were members when it began with a group of 150. Whether dropping by during the day or visiting the mansion at night, guests and members are required to wear coat and tie and proper dress. No one is admitted as a guest unless they have the name and member number of a member. Guests conducted by members are admitted like guests at a country club, while guests of members who are unaccompanied must pay an entrance fee ranging from $20 at night to $25 on weekends. Reservations are required and require a week's notice typically. Once inside, however, members and guests can witness performances by some of the very best magicians from across the globe on the three stages a main stage that seats about 80 (Palace of Mystery), a smaller hall that seats about 60 (Parlour of Prestidigitation) and a close-up magic parlor (Close-up Gallery) that fits about 20 guests. I was treated to a private tour of The Magic Castle last Friday evening by a magician friend of mine and his wife, who are frequent visitors to the house to enjoy meals by themselves or with guests. What a night! The kitchen was first class with an attentive wait staff. Entrees were well prepared and a full service bar and ample wine list were also available. The ambiance of this transformed Victorian mansion made for a truly special evening and I am eternally grateful for the privilege. If anyone wants to know how to get inside, the answer to the question is simple: magic!

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