Scottish Rite Temple on Wilshire to become private art museum


The Millard Sheets-designed former Masonic temple on Wilshire at Lucerne in the Dead Mile stretch (oops, Park Mile) is an under-appreciated gem of a building. It's got all those quirky historical figures around the outside, and evidence of the Masons inside. It also has a large auditorium that could be used for so much, but rarely gets seen by the public because the neighbors are arguably the most NIMBY homeowners in Los Angeles. The folks in Windsor Square, Hancock Park and Fremont Place object to events at the venue, which only has a small parking lot.

But now, says the LA Times, Maurice and Paul Marciano of the Guess Inc. jeans empire have bought the Scottish Rite Temple. From Roger Vincent's story:

The imposing marble-clad edifice, which has seen little use since 1994, will undergo a major renovation to house the Marcianos' contemporary art collections. It will be operated for the most part as a private property, with occasional exhibitions open to the public.

There is plenty of room to work with — nearly 90,000 square feet — in the temple conceived by artist Millard Sheets, one of Southern California's best-known designers.

The four-story building, which traverses a full block of Wilshire between Lucerne and Plymouth boulevards, sports white marble and travertine that Sheets personally selected in Italy. It is decorated with intricate mosaics depicting historical scenes and larger-than-life statues of important Masonic figures including George Washington.

The Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation bought the property from the Masons for $8 million, according to public title documents. The Marcianos are co-founders of clothier Guess Inc.

"We have been looking for a home for the collection," said William F. Payne, a spokesman for the Beverly Hills foundation. "It's a legacy project for the family."

Adrian Glick Kudler at Curbed LA adds some history:

The temple was designed by the artist Millard Sheets, who designed scads of mosaic- and stained-glass-adorned Home Savings bank buildings (now mostly Chases) starting in the 1950s.

Sheets said the Masons wanted to depict "the rights of man as an individual, and respect for various and creeds," and so he created for them his largest-ever mosaic, which "starts out with the builders of the temple from the days of Jerusalem, and King Solomon, who built the temple, and Babylon" and moves through history to "the first grand master of California in his full regalia being invested in Sacramento." It also has solid travertine sculptures of temple-builders (Solomon, George Washington) on the south facade, a recurring double-headed eagle motif, tons of other murals, a 1,500-seat dining room, a 3,000-seat auditorium, and "a very fine library." Sheets said "The temple is like a city."

Sheets was a multi-faceted artist, known for his architecture, his mosaics and his watercolor paintings — he also for a time ran the Otis Art Institute when it was on Wilshire Boulevard at Park View. I believe he oversaw the move from LA Times owner Gen. Harrison Gray Otis' old house into the newly built campus that is still there, though now it is an LAUSD elementary school. All of which is justification to re-reun one of my favorite Sheets works: this scene of 1930's Bunker Hill with his wife as the model. He called it Angel's Flight.


Top photo: Curbed LA

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