|Houdini is Haunting the Right Garden
There’s no question that Houdini lived in Laurel Canyon for the better part of a year. It
was 1919 and Houdini was in Hollywood to make two pictures for Lasky-Famous Players.
The studio was located on Vine Street and took up a large area between Sunset Boulevard
and Prospect (now Hollywood) Boulevard. A whole community of filmmakers lived around
the studio. Houdini rented a guesthouse from Ralf M. Walker, a Los Angeles department
Walker owned the mansion at 2398 Laurel Canyon Blvd. (the address wasn't changed to
2400 until many years later). The guest house for 2398 Laurel Canyon Blvd. wasn't on the
same side of the street as the big house. It was directly across Laurel Canyon from the
gatehouse of Walker's mansion.
The four bedroom house at 2435 Laurel Canyon Blvd. was set up on a knoll that jutted
into Laurel Canyon, creating a hairpin curve. The house was just north of Tom Mix’s cabin
(later, the Zappa cabin). From his study, Houdini could look down on Mix’s hunting lodge
and he could look across Laurel Canyon and see the home of his host, Ralf Walker. Walker
named the four bedroom house "Houdini House" and the name stuck.
Houdini said Hollywood was his favorite place. The nine or so months that he stayed
here may have been the happiest time of his life.
The house at 2435 Laurel Canyon Blvd. was built on solid rock and the hills around it were
honeycombed with caves, some natural, some man-made. There was an elevator which
took passengers down through the solid rock to a tunnel that went under Laurel Canyon
Boulevard and came up in the gatehouse of the Walker mansion. At that time, Laurel
Canyon was a wild and romantic spot.
After his sojourn in Hollywood, Houdini returned to New York and to vaudeville. He
also wrote, produced, and starred in two more feature films. It is well known how he died in
1926 at the age of 52 from a burst appendix.
For the next several years, his widow referred to her home in Hollywood, meaning
"Houdini House," Walker’s guesthouse. In 1934, Bessie Houdini returned to 2435 Laurel
Canyon. There, she conducted at least one séance to try to contact the spirit of her late
husband. When a magician's convention was held in Hollywood, the summer of 1935,
Bessie threw a cocktail party for 500 visiting magicians and their wives. The party was held
in the gardens of 2398 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
It was at that point, that the press began calling the Walker mansion "Houdini House."
The old-timers in Laurel Canyon knew perfectly well where Houdini had lived. They knew
he lived in the house where his widow was living. 2435. But the public and the press were
now misinformed and they remain so to this day.
Ralf Walker died in 1935. Bessie Houdini moved the next year when 2398 (and 2435)
Laurel Canyon Blvd. was sold.
Ever since 1959, when the mansion at 2400 Laurel Canyon Blvd. burned down, and Los
Angeles’s three big daily papers ran stories about the old Houdini mansion burning, visitors to
the grounds, not all of course, have been reporting visitations from Houdini's ghost. Once I
said they are tramping the wrong grounds, exploring the wrong ruins, meditating on the wrong
steps, and believing that Mrs. Houdini once lived in the chauffer’s quarters, the only structure
left undamaged after the fire. This is only partly true.
For many years, I have looked for evidence that Houdini walked in the gardens of 2398
(2400) and swam in the spring-fed pool. Well, here's what I was looking for.
|Houdini enjoys the swimming pool at Ralf M. Walker's estate at 2398 (now
2400) Laurel Canyon Blvd.