LA’s Magic Castle to get a new, conservation-conscious owner

In a move to preserve the historic Magic Castle in Hollywood, video game mogul Randy Pitchford buys the famous home of the Academy of Magical Arts.

The acquisition, which is expected to be completed by the end of the month, will ensure that the primary property in the heart of the tourist district remains the academy’s clubhouse and venue, Pitchford said. The price is not yet stated.

Pitchford is best known as the founder of Gearbox Entertainment Co., which developed the popular Borderlands video game franchise. He is also a lifelong magician and member of the academy based at Magic Castle, where he learned the tricks of the trade.

“Basically everything I know about entertainment started at Magic Castle,” said Pitchford, whose magical specialty is dexterity. “I feel like I owe it to the magic castle of my career.”

The interior of Magic Castle in Hollywood. The Edwardian manor house with French and Gothic elements was built in 1908 by Rollin Lane, a financier and orange grower in the Redlands, and his wife, Katherine.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The sale comes a little more than a year after the major institution was shaken by allegations of misconduct, described in a Los Angeles Times survey. In interviews with The Times, 12 people – among them guests and former employees – accused the Magic Castle management, staff, artists and academy members of abuses that included sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination on the grounds of race or gender.

The then board president of the academy, Randy Sinnott Jr., responded with a statement: “The Academy of Magical Arts and its board work to provide a safe and welcoming environment and experience …

“All claims brought to the board or management are treated seriously and professionally,” Sinnott said.

The Magic Castle, a familiar sight on Hollywood’s Franklin Avenue, is an Edwardian mansion with French and Gothic elements built in 1908 by Rollin Lane, a Redlands financier and orange grower, and his wife, Katherine. By the 1960s, it had become a maze of small apartments.

Pitchford buys Magic Castle from the Glover family, who had owned the property since 1961, when Thomas O. Glover bought the house and land. That same year, Glover rented out the building to William “Bill” Larsen Jr., Irene Larsen and Milt Larsen, who all started The Magic Castle.

Glover and Larsen, who was a TV writer and magician, turned it into a clubhouse for magicians. It still serves as the headquarters of the Academy of Magical Arts, a group of thousands of magicians and enthusiasts dedicated to the celebration and preservation of the performing arts.

Visitors who secure an invitation from an academy member can eat, drink and watch magical acts at the castle. The invitation includes a strict dress code that says, “When in doubt, make the mistake of being overdressed.”

The academy, a nonprofit, has become a lucrative business: In 2019, it generated revenue of $ 21 million and a net income of $ 1.39 million, according to its annual report.

The 2020 pandemic broke the spell as the castle closed during widespread business shutdowns. The academy’s plans to one day buy the property from its landlord, the Glover family, began to fall apart.

The academy “drained its nest egg rapidly,” said Pitchford, great-nephew of 20th-century master magician Richard Valentine Pitchford, known as the great Cardini. The venue is open again, but the academy’s dream of buying the property has at least been out of reach for years.

The sale of The Magic Castle comes just over a year after it was shaken by allegations of misconduct.

The sale of The Magic Castle comes just over a year after the major institution was shaken by allegations of misconduct, including sexual assault.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, property developers approached the Glover family in hopes of securing the 3-acre plot to build homes and perhaps a hotel. The wizards’ lease on the castle was in doubt, though the historic landmark remained in place.

Pitchford, who married his wife Kristy on a stage in the castle, stepped in to buy the property. He declined to disclose the price before the sale is completed. Included in the deal is the Magic Castle Hotel, a modest on-site inn that attracts tourists.

Pitchford also declined to talk about his broader plans for the property, which will be run by Erika Larsen, daughter of founders Bill and Irene Larsen. The academy remains tenant.

“I expect investment will be made throughout the property,” Pitchford said. “There’s a possibility there, with Erika at the helm.”

Co-seller West McDonough said she has mixed feelings about getting rid of the property because she grew up visiting the castle and seeing magical acts with her grandfather, Thomas Glover. “I was called on in all the shows. The magic castle was my community.”

The historic Magic Castle and Magic Castle Hotel have been sold to tech billionaire and magician Randy Pitchford.

The historic Magic Castle and Magic Castle Hotel, center left, has been purchased by Randy Pitchford of the Glover family, who had owned the property since 1961.

(Google Earth)

However, it’s time to sell, said McDonough, who married magician Jonathan Pendragon, “the grand master of illusion.”

“Like any family business that has gone down through a few generations, we are reaching down to where it is spread through a lot of people who have their own priorities and agendas,” she said.

McDonough supports Pitchford’s vision for the property and is ready to release it, she said.

“I’m at the point where I’m absolutely delighted because I no longer have to stress about worrying about whether it’s safe and what the future holds.”

Founder Thomas Glover had a son, also named Thomas, who is another member of the family who also owned the nearby Yamashiro restaurant before selling it in 2016. He is now ready to let go of Magic Castle.

“We’ve had hundreds of offers over the years, but Randy is a very special person when it comes to the castle,” he said. “Randy has the means and the attitude to preserve his legacy.”

Declarations of support for the sale were also offered by renowned magicians David Copperfield and Penn Jillette, who praised Pitchford.

“The whole magic community is applauding Randy and excited about the new era of Magic Castle,” said Jillette, the senior half of Penn & Teller. “And now I might be able to come in without a tie because I know Randy.”

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