Saturday, June 22, 2019

Visiting the site of the Houdinis Silver Wedding Anniversary


It was 100 years ago today that Harry and Bess Houdini celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary with a gala dinner at the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles. The event was attended by 200 guests, including luminaries such as Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, and Will Rogers. On making her entrance to the ballroom, Bess was so overcome she swooned. Houdini had to dash to get her a glass of wine to brace her up. He joked that it reminded him of "my old running days." After dinner the guests danced until midnight.

While I knew the Alexandria still stood downtown (today it's apartments), what I didn't know was that The King Edward ballroom where the Houdinis had their dinner also survives. So on this 100th anniversary, I paid a visit to The Alexandria Ballrooms and was given a tour by the very friendly and helpful Charlene Bustos. As you can see, it has remained remarkably unchanged! All the distinctive crown moldings remain and even the floor is still the original hardwood.


Below is a shot from other side of the room. Note the fireplace and original doorways. Through which did the Houdinis make their entrance, I wonder?


Today the ballroom was being prepared for a Quinceanera. It was fun to think that, exactly 100 years ago, tables and chairs were being arranged for the Houdinis dinner. And somewhere upstairs Houdini was writing the following note for Bess to find after dinner along with diamonds in a silver setting.

My Soulmate Wife:
Our silver wedding today. No, dear Heart, we have had twenty-five silver weddings. You have been truly my wife, my all in life. If only my sainted mother were here now she would nod her head with pride.
We have starved and starred together. We have had our little tiffs, but your sunny smile and my good sense(?) always robbed them of bitterness. I love you, love you, dearest, and I know you love me. Your very touch, your care of me, dearest, and the laughter in my heart when you put your arms around me prove it. Think, dear Heart, twenty-five years! The years have flown. It seems only yesterday that I carried you away to take you for myself.
Sweetheart, I will give you this letter after the reception tonight. I am writing this whilst you and Jule are busy at the mirror making up, and as I glance at you and see the happiness in your eyes I bow my head in silent thanks to Almighty God that I am the lucky man to make you happy. May God keep you long for me my Precious Love.
Yours to the end of life and ever after.
EHRICH

One revelation is that the ballroom is located on the second floor, which is something I never gathered from the famous photo. Below is a photo from the outside of the building showing the four ballroom windows that look out over Spring Street.


It was also a treat to see the inside of the Alexandria itself. Built in 1906, it was the most luxurious hotel in Los Angeles for many years. In fact, I'm wondering if Houdini stayed at the Alexandria when he performed at the Orpheum just a few blocks away. The Alexandria also has a rich Hollywood history. Charlie Chaplin not only got married in The Palm Court ballroom, but in the lobby (below) he had a fight with MGM head Louis B. Mayer. It was also on the hotel's exterior that Harold Loyd shot his famous human fly sequence for Safety Last.

While today the hotel has been renovated, many beautiful original features remain, such as a grand stairway that would have been familiar to the Houdinis.


It's surprising that such an important and unchanged Houdini location seems to have flown under the radar for so many years. The good news is The Alexandria Ballrooms are available to rent. While they remain a popular venue for weddings and receptions, I'm thinking this famous space would be a desirable location for future Houdini documentaries, and, of course, an ideal setting for an Official Houdini Seance.

So while I might have been 100 years late to the party, I'm thrilled to have made it today, and to have experienced this unchanged space that still seems to hold the loving energy of Harry and Bess Houdini.

Thank you to Charlene Bustos for allowing me this special visit on this special day.


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8 comments:

  1. I'm so glad to know that the Alexandria has been renovated. I briefly worked at the LA Theatre Center across the street in the 80s and always found it so depressing to think that a hotel that had been so famous and ritzy (and where Paul Whiteman had played!) was in such a sorry state.

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    1. One of ballroom windows looks directly at the LA Theatre Center. I took a pic.

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  2. Thanks for posting. This was great. I love checking out these old sites that still exist. This one is especially cool because you had a photo from 100 years ago. Amazing how little it has changed.

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  3. Incredible!!! Thanks to John and Charlene for this field trip. I wonder if she told the guests for that party about the HH history in that room. Some of the wall decor above the windows appear original. That's amazing!!!

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    1. It appears to all still be original. Even the floor is the original hardwood.

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    2. I also wondered if the hardwood floor was original. If you look at the direction of the wood behind Charlene in the bottom photo, you can see that the grain pattern is in the same direction as in the anniversary photo.

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    3. I've added that into the story.

      Charlene invited me to come back when the room is empty, which I will certainly do at some point. But being able to go on the day was just too cool.

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  4. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pics; how wonderful to find it in largely unchanged condition a century later. It's great that there are still some theaters around as well where one can imagine Harry center stage and Bess assisting him mid-performance. Time travel for the imagination.

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