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Hollywood's mansion of magic celebrates 100 years

 The Magic Castle is seen as preparations continue for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 18, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok - Reuters
The Magic Castle is seen as preparations continue for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 18, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
— image credit: Reuters

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One hundred years ago, a wealthy couple built a mansion in Hollywood and installed a speaking tube allowing them to order a Scotch whisky from their servants -- a handy trick, but nothing compared to what the home's later occupants would conjure up.

Today under the name The Magic Castle, the mansion is a private club for magicians that has been around for 46 years, and is known by tricksters all over the world.

This month, the castle celebrated the 100th anniversary of the construction of the mansion that houses it. To mark the occasion, the club threw a gala party and had a magician wriggle out of a straight jacket while hanging from a crane.

The Magic Castle is a show business haunt, but it's not in the business of showing off. Instead of an open door policy, the club perched in the Hollywood Hills has more of a sliding bookcase policy, as visitors must carry an invitation from a member to get inside.

Over the years, celebrity members have included Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Johnny Carson and magicians Penn & Teller. Visitors find an opulent setting, where generations of magicians exchange secrets of their trade at lush bars when they're not performing at one of the mansion's six theaters.

"I often refer to this place as the Mecca of magic, people come in constantly from all over the world," said magician Andrew Goldenhersh, who moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis, Missouri, just to be near The Magic Castle.

The mansion was built for wealthy banker Rollin Lane and his wife Katherine, back when Hollywood was just a train stop, not an entertainment capital.

MAGICAL TRANSFORMATION

Milt Larsen, who wrote for the television game show "Truth or Consequences," took over the old mansion in the early 1960s, when owner Thomas Glover, a Texas businessman, allowed him to turn it into a home for Larsen's Academy of Magical Arts.

Larsen, 78, who has a mustache and combed-back hair, said he comes from a "magic family" because dad went from being an attorney to a touring magician, and took the family along.

Earlier this month, when the Magic Castle celebrated its building's 100th anniversary, Larsen talked to guests while sitting at a bar with 200 year-old etched glass panels imported from Scotland.

In the corner, magician Jon Armstrong performed card tricks for a group sitting around a table, as Goldenhersh, who likes to work with live creatures, chased down a butterfly.

He explained that the insect sprang loose from "a bit of magic," grasped it from a wall and shuffled off to entertain celebrity guest Tippi Hedren, star of 1963 movie "The Birds."

Not everyone who hangs around the castle is a magician or a movie star. Of the more than 5,000 members, computer programer Brian Tolman, 46, is an associate, which means he is not a magician but pays to be in the club -- about $2,000 a year.

"I bring clients here all the time," he said. "Just like in some places you take people to a golf course, this is my golf course. I take them here, they meet important people, get made to feel special ... I close at least two deals a year here."

Tolman gives tours of the club. He shows off a shelf where the ashes of magician Dai Vernon are kept in a box. Then there's the basement, which houses the late comedian W.C. Field's trick pool table.

One place Tolman cannot see is the library and its secret tomes about magic. That is off limits because he is not a magician, but he seems fine with that.

"If this had been open to the public, the magicians wouldn't hang out here," he said.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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