A week after the coronavirus forced the 57-year-old Magic Castle to close its doors, the president of the Academy of Magical Arts, which runs the club, announced Saturday that the Hollywood landmark has laid off nearly its entire staff.
In an email obtained by Variety, AMA president Jim Steinmeyer wrote, “Amid these extraordinary circumstances, amid this disappointing and unsettling time, the Board of Directors has decided that we must lay off most of our employees due to the necessary closures. Letters from me went out this afternoon to our employees informing them of this fact. This will affect 189 employees.”
Employees will receive two weeks’ salary and will keep their health care benefits through July. Meanwhile, a skeleton crew of just nine will stay on to maintain the historic clubhouse, which offered dinner and big-name magical acts to its roughly 5,000 members and their guests.
Though the firings may seem drastic, Steinmeyer points out that it was necessary to ensure that employees could receive unemployment insurance:
“To be fair to them, we need to allow them to file for unemployment in a timely, efficient manner. In addition, following guidelines, our employees will be paid for unused vacation time.”
Steinmeyer remains hopeful that the situation is only temporary, writing, “Of course, we are anxious to re-open the club, and hope that employees will be able to return when that happens. For days, we discussed possible plans to attempt to retain them, but none of these plans are practical under the circumstances.”
It is hard to think of a more storied L.A. nightspot than the Castle, which is said to be haunted by Harry Houdini, and where guests gain entrance by saying “Open Sesame” to a carved owl on a bookshelf.
Club co-founder Milt Larsen once told Los Angeles about the time Cary Grant manned the lobby to play maître d’ when he grew bored waiting for some tardy dinner companions.
“He was down there about 15 or 20 minutes, and when people came in, he said, ‘Welcome to the Magic Castle. If you go over to that little owl and say ‘open sesame’—he did the whole entrance speech, and people would come upstairs to the bar and say, ‘Where did you get that guy? He looks just like Cary Grant!’”
The Magic Castle was a labor of love for Milt and his late brother, Bill Jr., featuring antique banisters, Tiffany stained glass windows, Lalique chandeliers, and one bar that made a countertop from the gym floor of Hollywood High, while another took the original backdrop from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as its own.
“From the time you enter to the time you leave, you’re in a wonderland,” Milt said.