In an effort to preserve Hollywood’s historic Magic Castle, video game mogul Randy Pitchford is buying the famed Academy of Magical Arts headquarters.
The purchase, which is expected to close by the end of the month, will ensure that the prime property in the heart of the tourist district remains the academy’s clubhouse and performance venue, Pitchford said. The price has yet to be communicated.
Pitchford is better known as the founder of Gearbox Entertainment Co., who developed the popular Borderlands video game franchise. He is also a lifelong wizard 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 sleight of hand. “I feel I owe my career to the Magic Castle.”
The sale comes just over a year after the legendary institution was rocked by allegations of misconduct, detailed in a Los Angeles Times investigation. In interviews with The Times, 12 people – including guests and former employees – accused management, staff, artists and members of the Magic Castle academy of abuses which included sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of race or sex.
Academy council chairman at the time, Randy Sinnott Jr., responded with a statement: “The Academy of Magical Arts and its council work to provide a safe and welcoming environment and experience …
“Any requests brought to the attention of the Board or management are treated seriously and professionally,” said Sinnott.
Magic Castle, a familiar sight on Hollywood’s Franklin Avenue, is an Edwardian manor with French and Gothic elements built in 1908 by Rollin Lane, a Redlands financier and orange farmer, and his wife Katherine. By the 1960s it had become a maze of small apartments.
Pitchford is buying the Magic Castle from the Glover family, who had owned the property since 1961 when Thomas O. Glover bought the house and land. In the same year, Glover rented the building to William “Bill” Larsen Jr., Irene Larsen and Milt Larsen, all of whom started the Magic Castle.
Glover and Larsen, who was a television writer and magician, turned it into a wizarding clubhouse. It still serves as the home of the Academy of Magical Arts, a group of several thousand magicians and enthusiasts dedicated to the celebration and preservation of the performing arts.
Visitors who get an invitation from an academy member can dine, drink, and watch acts of magic at the castle. The invitation carries with it a strict dress code who observes: “If in doubt, sin so as not to be too dressed.”
The academy, a nonprofit utility company, has grown into a profitable venture: in 2019, it generated revenue of $ 21 million and net income of $ 1.39 million, according to its annual report.
The 2020 pandemic broke the spell, as the castle closed during widespread business lockdowns. Plans that the academy was to one day buy the property from its landlord, the Glover family, began to collapse.
The academy “was draining its nest egg precipitously,” said Pitchford, grandson 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 been out of reach for at least years.
Meanwhile, real estate developers were approaching the Glover family hoping to secure the 3-acre site to build housing and possibly a hotel. The wizards’ rent in the castle was in doubt, although the historical landmark has remained in place.
Pitchford, who married his wife Kristy on a castle stage, stepped in to buy the property. He refused to disclose the price before the sale was completed. Included in the offer is the Magic Castle Hotel, a modest on-site inn that attracts tourists.
Pitchford also declined to talk about his larger plans for the property, which will be managed by Erika Larsen, daughter of founders Bill and Irene Larsen. The academy will remain a tenant.
“I expect there will be investments throughout the property,” Pitchford said. “There is an opportunity there, with Erika at the helm.”
Co-seller West McDonough said she had mixed feelings about the separation from the property because she grew up visiting the castle and seeing acts of magic with her grandfather, Thomas Glover. “I’ve been called to all the shows. The Magic Castle was my community ”.
It’s time to sell, though, said McDonough, who married wizard Jonathan Pendragon, the “Grand Master of Illusion”.
“Like any family business that has passed through a few generations, we are getting to the point where it has spread through many people who have their own priorities and agendas,” he said.
McDonough supports Pitchford’s vision for the property and is ready to let it go, she said.
“I’m at the point where I’m completely happy because I no longer have to worry about whether it’s safe and what the future holds.”
Founder Thomas Glover had a son, also named Thomas, who is another family member who previously also owned the nearby Yamashiro restaurant selling it in 2016. He is now ready to let go of the Magic Castle.
“We’ve received 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.”
Statements of support for the sale were also offered by famous wizards David Copperfield and Penn Jillette, who praised Pitchford.
“The whole wizarding community is cheering Randy and excited about the new era of Magic Castle,” said Jillette, the taller half of Penn & Teller. “And now maybe I can go in without a tie because I know Randy.”