Saturday, September 5, 2015

Historic site of Houdini escape will be preserved

LA Curbed reports that the long empty Herald-Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles will undergo a massive renovation that will preserve the historic 100-year-old structure. Of course, we know this as a prime stop on any Houdini tour of L.A., because it was here on April 4, 1923 that Houdini performed a spectacular suspended straitjacket escape.

A reported 20,000 people packed Broadway and watched as Houdini was strapped into a straitjacket by Los Angeles Police Chief Louis D. Oaks. (The straitjacket used that day resurfaced in 2011 on an episode of Pawn Stars). Houdini was especially focused on the task at hand. When someone asked him about a recent book he had written, he snapped, "I've no time to think of books. This is a big job and I have to concentrate."

Houdini was hauled 50 feet above the sidewalk and made his escape in five minutes. After the escape he told reporters, "This unequaled crowd and interest shown are very gratifying. I was not sure whether the police would beat me this time or not; certainly they gave me all they had. And I want to thank The Examiner for making this the biggest open-air exhibition of my career."

The Examiner Building opened for business on January 1, 1915 and remained the newspaper's headquarters until the paper folded in 1989. The Hearst Corporation kept ownership of the building and rented it out for film shoots, including Christopher Nolan's magic-themed The Prestige. But a question mark hung over the fate and future of the building.

Now the Hearst Corporation has now partnered with developer The Georgetown Company to turn the building into a combination of creative office and restaurant space. The $40-million project will restore the building's two-story lobby (which will remain accessible to the public) and rehab the Spanish-Moorish exterior. The majority of the building's interior will be turned into 80,000 square feet of creative office space. The whole renovation is expected to wrap up by the end of 2017.

It's great to know this historic and still recognizable Houdini location will remain an L.A. landmark. Maybe Hearst and Georgetown might consider a plaque on the building exterior: "Houdini hung here!" Or at least a nice Examiner-era press photograph in the lobby?

You can see more pics of Houdini's Examiner escape HERE and HERE. Read more about the building's renovation at LA Curbed.



  1. "I was not sure whether the police would beat me this time or not..."

    An escape that by 1923 had become routine for HH, and he's still squeezing every last ounce of drama out of it--with his jacket!

    1. He really did push the drama this time. The newspaper account says after he was lowered his spent several minutes laying down because the blood had rushed to his head. We he stood up he received a second huge round of applause.

    2. Another nice detail from the Examiner account. Houdini's felt hat, which we've seen in film footage of other suspended escapes (possibly this one), was green.

  2. This is very cool. A framed press photograph or a plaque in the lobby would be great, and well deserved.

    1. I think an online petition, of some sort, sent to Hearst or Georgetown, could help influence this to happen. I bet if you sent them a letter, package or suggestions and stated your case as to the historical significance of HH at this location, they might agree to it.

    2. It's a good idea. First thing to do is make them aware this escape happened. They might not even know. The Houdini world in general didn't even know about this escape until 2013 when I was led to it via a pic from John Hinson and did a post. That seemed to have uncorked it.

  3. WOW! Great.
    John follow up on this with the powers that be.
    So thankful you brought us there on when we were brought to Hollywood by Turner Classic Movies to introduce Houdini's "The Grim Game."
    Reminder: thanks to Turner "The Grim Game" will be shown on their cable channel twice on Oct 18. Almost 100 years after he made the film, more people will now see him in this film than probably saw Houdini in his entire lifetime.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini!

  4. i think a Plaque on the outside of the building, right underneath where it happened, would be very cool!

    1. Me too, but I fear that would be a hard sell. But a photo in the lobby I'd think would be an easy one.