HomeCity NewsKiwanis Conjure Up a Magical Evening at Houdini Estate

Kiwanis Conjure Up a Magical Evening at Houdini Estate

First published in the Jan. 21 print issue of the Burbank Leader.


The name Harry Houdini is synonymous with magic, mystery and the mastery of escapism. Members and supporters of the Kiwanis Club of Burbank will get to experience all three along with sampling the offerings of gourmet food stations and exotic libations when the organization presents their annual gala fundraiser under the theme of “The Magic of Kiwanis” on March 25 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The event will give attendees the opportunity to escape from Burbank and spend a magical evening at the Houdini Estate nestled within dense greenery just off Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Los Angeles.
“We really wanted to do something special for this year’s celebration, as we start out next 100 years of service to our community,” said Cari Pelayo, who will co-chair the event along with local Kiwanis President Eddie Arnold.
This past Monday, Pelayo and Arnold were joined by Kiwanians Carline Romela-Herisse, Ron Rothacher, Juan Guillen, Theresa Ayers and Mary Anne Been to meet with Lori Seyer, who serves as the property manager for the Houdini Estate, to plan out the evening.
“Upon arrival, guests will be checked in and begin their magical adventure by strolling the grounds,” said Pelayo. “In the main event area magicians from the Magic Castle — Raven, Cydney Kaplan, Migz, Sirinda Sincharoen, Joe “The Great Joedini” Namsinh, and Raul Fernandez — will perform ongoing 15-minute shows for people to enjoy either before or after they take a tour of the estate.”
Pelayo said the event planners have already lined up 12 chefs from local restaurants, a brewery, winery and several liquor makers, who will be donating their goods and services to help make the fundraiser as profitable as possible.
The evening will also honor special VIP guests, who could be you and two guests.
“For the first 50 guests who make a $500 donation we will have a pre-event opportunity drawing and the winners will be invited to a special late evening VIP pool party and to spend the night of the event in the estate with breakfast prepared and served by a local chef the following morning,” said Pelayo.
While the house, built in the early 1900s, and the property, with its caves, grottos, hidden tunnels, stone walkways and terraced gardens, is called the Houdini Estate, and pays homage to the legendary escape artist, magician, illusionist and stunt performer who died in 1926, most visitors are surprised to learn that Houdini never owned the property himself.
Originally built and owned by Ralf M. Walker, the property also included a four bedroom guest house. Walker and Houdini had been friends and when the magician came to California in 1919 to work on his two feature films for Famous Players-Lasky, “The Grim Game” and “Terror Island,” he and his wife Bess are said to have lived in Walker’s guest house.
While, according to Seyer, the details are sketchy on how long Houdini actually spent on the property, it is far better documented, that after his death, Bess spent a considerable amount of time in the guest house, throwing parties and holding séances.
Following Walker’s death in 1935, the property changed hands numerous times and was occupied by an evangelist (who turned it into the Temple of Yahweh) and an eccentric poet, before both the main house and guest house were destroyed in a 1959 fire.
The 3.9 acre property continued to change hands over the years and in 2006 the property was purchased by José Luis Nazar who restored the estate and gardens and then opened it for private parties, weddings, corporate events, as a bed and breakfast and for filming.
This annual event is designed to raise funds for the direct support Kiwanis provides to Burbank youth. The organization strives to help young people by increasing their confidence, finding their self-expression and developing leadership skills.
The all-volunteer organization has a long history of supporting many programs at Burbank schools such as advising the Key Clubs, donating to art, music and drama departments, sponsoring the Burbank Middle School Speech Program, and producing “Burbank Singing Star,” a singing contest for kids which raises thousands of dollars that goes toward elementary school music education.
Local Kiwanians also sponsor both a Cub Scout den and a Boy Scout troop, and hold many direct hands-on volunteer work projects with charitable organizations that serve thousands of residents.
Tickets for “The Magic of Kiwanis,” which promises to be a magical evening of hypnotizing enjoyment, are $150 per person. The organization also has numerous sponsorship opportunities available and are currently seeking silent auction item donations.
For more information or to get tickets, visit themagicofkiwanis.com.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

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