The imposing Masonic temple that has long sat vacant in Mid-Wilshire is now home to a newly public contemporary art collection, but the mysterious Masonic symbolism of the building still abounds, inside and out.
The Scottish Rite Temple on Wilshire Boulevard was built in 1961 by architect Millard Sheets as a gathering place for an order of the Freemasons in Los Angeles. Its monumental white marble facade is adorned with mosaics, biblical passages, messages of fraternal unity, and the various distinctive symbols of the Masons, including beehives, eyes, and compasses.
Due to declining membership, it started to be used for other functions, including police funerals and to house the National Guard during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The Masons had to put the temple up for sale in the ’90s. It stood vacant and off-limits to the public until it was purchased by Maurice and Paul Marciano, wealthy brothers who made their fortune by founding Guess? Jeans. Originally a private gallery, the brothers’ art collection is, as of 2017, open for public viewing in the former temple.
The collection includes site-specific works by artists like Cindy Sherman and Jim Shaw, who have taken advantage of the temple’s cavernous spaces and incorporated Masonic memorabilia like embroidered tunics and powdered wigs. More of this memorabilia, including an unsettling collection of painted model human heads corresponding to visions of various races, can be found in the museum’s Masonic archives.
Update December 2019: As of November 2019, the Marciano Art Foundation has closed indefinitely following the employee’s attempt for unionization.