This is a special post courtesy of L.A. Daily Mirror and Mary Mallory, the writer of this fine article. So please head over there and give them some love for allowing us to share a bit of our history with our readers.
Sitting gracefully below Yamashiro restaurant just above Franklin Avenue, the Magic Castle stands as a glorious reminder of the beauty and elegance of old Hollywood. Almost like magic it appeared on the Hollywood horizon, and miraculously it still survives.
The builders Rollin B. Lane and Katherine Lane possessed an interesting back story before constructing the house in 1909. Lane met and wooed his wife while traveling in Milwaukee in 1896. Their marriage was probably one of the first that was rushed in order to vote in an upcoming election. The Oct. 29, 1896, Los Angeles Times reports from an Associated Press wire that Lane, a Redlands resident, rushed the wedding to return to California to vote for Republican Major McKinley. As the article stated, Lane “is one of those who believe in patriotism as well as matrimony, and made the one wait on the other.” He married Kate A. Glynn, a teacher in the sixteenth district school, No. 2, as well as the author of “The Girl From Oshkosh,” and she agreed to a quick marriage in order to travel back to California before the election date.
In Redlands, California, a fine home awaited them, as the Jan. 11, 1896, Los Angeles Times mentioned that Lane paid about $13,000 for the fine home and seventeen acres of C. J. Monson Jr. Lane had been cashier in the Union Bank before traveling the world for four years, but “…he returns to his first love, declaring he has seen nothing as fine as Redlands.”
Lane participated actively in business there, as President of the Redlands Citrus Union, which was formed to “promote the sale, reputation and selling price of the citrus fruits produced in this locality, and especially to agree upon uniform minimum selling prices…” per the Oct. 29, 1897, Los Angeles Times.
By 1902, Lane and his wife moved to Hollywood, where he worked in banking as well as real estate. He served on the Board of Directors for the Home Savings Bank and later the American Savings Bank. In 1909 they constructed their grand house at 7001 Franklin Ave., which for some reason they named Holly Chateau. Unfortunately the newspaper makes no mention regarding the naming of the residence.
Lane expanded his real estate holdings in 1917 to the San Fernando Valley, joining in partnership with H. J. Whitley, Ross E. Whitley, and L. E. Bliss, to build two story homes in the community of Marian, which was located between Van Nuys and Owensmouth and is now called Northridge. This area contained thousands of acres of sugar beet and beans farming.
While Lane seemed to disappear behind the scenes, his wife, Katherine, took an active interest in the community and the arts after giving birth to her son Rollin B. Lane Jr. in 1910. She was a member of several women’s groups, hosting civic organizations, garden parties, teas, and the Euterpe Opera Reading Club from their home. In 1925 she hosted a 64th birthday party for Carrie Jacobs Bond, the famous female composer. Over 300 people attended, including C. E. Toberman, the major builder of Hollywood, and Sid Grauman’s mother, Mrs. D. O. Grauman. Mrs. Lane helped establish Olvera Street in the 1930s as well as leading the planting of trees around the city as a member of the Women’s Community Service Annex of the Chamber of Commerce.
The couple also took an active interest in donating money to charity, giving $20,000 to the Children’s Home Society of California in 1920 to construct a home for unwed mothers in South Los Angeles, with the home being named in honor of Mr. Lane.
Lane passed away in 1940 at the age of 86, noted for generously giving $100,000 for a library at his alma mater, Wisconsin’s Ripon College, as well as $20,000 for a schoolhouse in Pickett, Wisconsin.
Mrs. Lane herself passed away in December 1945 at the age of 82, with her obituary noting she was the granddaughter of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The paper noted she was born near Buffalo, New York before moving to Wisconsin. She was “known as the “Tree Lady” for her interest in community parks.” Mrs. Lane also acted as official hostess for the State of Wisconsin during the 1932 Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles.
Lane Jr. must have quickly sold the house, because in June 1948, the City Marshal’s office and deputies seized truckloads of furniture from Mrs. Patricia Noblesse Hogan, now living in the house and renting it to lodgers. Seaboard Financial Co. claimed she had defaulted on a $27,500 loan. Hogan had been a defendant in five suits over the last year and half, stemming from financial problems that caused her eviction from Mt. Kalmia Castle above the Sunset Strip.
The Magic Castle claims on its website that the home then became a multi-family home, home for the elderly, and then several small apartments before being bought and saved by Thomas O. Glover, owner of Yamashiro’s higher on the hill.
In September 1961, Milt Larsen, a writer for the television show “Truth or Consequences,” and his brother William, a TV producer, took over management of the building, restoring the home to its full glory, and formally opening the Magic Castle on Jan. 2, 1963, as the home of the Academy of Magical Arts.
As the Dec. 26, 1962, Los Angeles Times article noted, the three story, 22 room home contained a secret panel that functioned as the entrance, and “the “Invisible Irma” room boasts a regular piano that plays tunes at a verbal command.” Original magic posters decorated the rooms.
A September 1963 article described the Victorian decor of the place. “In fact, it wouldn’t surprise anyone in this crowd if Diamond Jim, Lillian Russell or George Raft sauntered up and put a slug in the nickelodeon. Even the guests fit into the plush setting of marble and mahogany. Cecil Beaton would flip over the gold and maroon velvet portiers, the stained glass and potted palms in the conservatory.”
The March 13, 1964, Times article listed dinner prices from $2.95 to $4.95, with appetizers and desserts extra. The article also mentioned that magicians gave shows throughout the mansion for diners.
A June 18, 1967 article called the home Victorian Gothic, “decoratively, the motif is early Transylvania. Downstairs, the wine cellar is guarded by a huge, stuffed gorilla. Off in the corner, holding a glass of blood, is a life-size replica of Bela Lugosi; behind the stairs is a fairly realistic-looking character leaning out of a casket, a stake through his heart… .”
A 1971 story noted that about 600 of the total 2,000 active members were magicians, and that the magicians paid an initiation fee of $50, while associate members paid $300. Annual dues cost $40, and members picked up their own dinners and bar tabs.
A television show called “The Magician” starring Bill Bixby taped at the home in 1974, the first time filming had been permitted inside the house. Unfortunately, the series didn’t last long.
In 1978, a brouhaha erupted over the Franklin Garden Apartments right next door, an elegant building constructed in 1920 and containing stone fireplaces, plaster molding, wiring fixtures, open beam ceilings, and tile roofs, a building awarded Historic-Cultural Monument No. 192. After much fighting over the property, which Glover and Larsen had allowed to fall into dangerous conditions by benign neglect, the apartments were torn down and converted into a parking lot for the facility.
The Magic Castle still operates to this day, full of magic and early Hollywood memorabilia. Magic shows occur at tables and in small theatres, and dining resembles the elegance of a bygone era.