The So-Called Houdini RuinsOct 26th, 2011 | By Lindsay | Category: This and That
One location that I have wanted to stalk for just about forever now is the so-called Harry Houdini Estate, or Houdini Ruins, located at the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Lookout Mountain Avenue in Laurel Canyon. I first read about the site five years ago in fave stalking tome Hollywood: The Movie Lover’s Guide, but, for whatever reason, had never made the trip out there to stalk it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the Grim Cheaper and I found ourselves in the Laurel Canyon area and decided that, because the locale had long been rumored to be haunted by the ghost of the famous magician, the timing could not have been more perfect to finally stop by. It was not until after I got home and did some research that I discovered that Houdini had most likely never even set foot on the property, let alone lived there, and therefore had pretty much no reason whatsoever to haunt it.
It is not exactly clear how or why the rumor about the Houdini Estate got started. According to an October 1989 Los Angeles Times article written by Michael Szymanski, the first printed mention of it was in Kenneth Schessler’s 1972 book This is Hollywood. When Szymanski told Schessler that his information about the Estate had largely been panned, Schessler responded, “I heard about the controversy, but I proved it by finding it in a directory of some sort. I just can’t remember where.” Um, OK, I believe you, then! What is known as fact is this: Harry Houdini did reside in the Los Angeles area for a brief period around 1919 while filming two movies for the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation/Paramount Pictures. Where he stayed during that time, though, is anybody’s guess. Journalist Maurice Zolotow once researched the magician for a Los Angeles Magazine article and said, “Houdini resided in Hollywood for about two years, yet I’ve never been able to discover where he lived.” Further adding to the mystery and allure of the Laurel Canyon site is the fact that the 40-room Italianate-style mansion which once stood there burned entirely to the ground in 1959. All that remained after the blaze were some ornate stone staircases, cement walls, and the former servant’s quarters. The main home was never rebuilt and the ruins of the fire, which came to be known as the “Houdini Ruins” and which you can take a look at here and here, were visible from Laurel Canyon Boulevard for years to come. As you can see in the above photographs, though, that is, unfortunately, no longer the case.
However it began, the Houdini Estate rumor spread even further after the fire and countless websites and books still to this day state that the Laurel Canyon ruins were once a part of the magician’s property, despite many claims to the contrary. Houdini historian Manny Weltman even went so far as to say, “Houdini never set foot on those grounds, and anyone who says so is lying. If anyone comes up with proof I’ll eat my magic hat.” When the site went up for sale in 1989, Merrill Lynch hired two different title search companies to research the title, but neither could find any link to Houdini. Today, the location, which mainly serves as an event venue and is known as “Houdini House”, consists of a 3.9-acre plot of land with landscaped terraces, waterfalls, ponds, hiking trails, meandering pathways, and an Old-Hollywood-style home that sleeps twelve. One of my friends actually attended a wedding at the estate and said it was an absolutely magical experience. So, whether Houdini ever set foot on the property or not seems to be entirely irrelevant, as it has somehow managed to generate a mystique all on its own. Oh, what I would not give to throw a Halloween party there! Can you imagine how incredibly cool that would be?!?! And while the Houdini House rental rates are actually quite reasonable, somehow I still don’t think the GC would ever go for it.
Someone who did go for it, though, was The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Taylor Armstrong, who in the Season 1 episode titled “It’s My Party and I’ll Spend If I Want To”, famously threw her 4-year-old daughter, Kennedy, a $60,000 Mad-Hatter-themed birthday party at the Houdini Estate. And no, that was not a typo – the party, which was for a FOUR-YEAR-OLD, actually cost $60,000!!!!! The spectacle caused fellow Housewife Lisa Vanderpump to ask, “What ever happened to Pin the Tail on the Donkey?” Love it!
The bust of Houdini which was shown in the Housewives episode can just barely be viewed from Laurel Canyon Boulevard and is pictured above, albeit quite blurrily.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The so-called Houdini Ruins are located at 2400 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Laurel Canyon. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, no part of the property is visible from the street, so I cannot really recommend stalking it. You can visit the Houdini House’s official website here.