At long last, it seems the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple really will be re-opening, this time as a museum holding the art collection of the Marciano Foundation. According to news reports, the Marciano family plans to open the Marciano Art Foundation private museum in the spring of 2017 to display their 1,500-piece collection of contemporary art. Paul and Maurice Marciano, the founders of jeans conglomerate Guess, Inc., purchased the building three years ago, promising to renovate it and provide a respectful use that would be compatible with the elegant Windsor Square residential neighborhood.
The building was built in 1961, designed by artist, designer and educator Millard Sheets, best known for his mosaics that adorn former Home Savings and Loan, now Chase Bank, buildings around the city.
According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, the exterior of the building is made of marble and travertine that Sheets personally selected from an Italian quarry near Rome. The Scottish Rite is a degree of the Freemasons; biblical and historical quotations over the entrance reflect the Masonic values of liberty, equality, fraternity, and devotion. The history of the Masons is depicted on fourteen-foot high travertine figures designed by sculptors Albert Stewart and John Edward Svenson. A mosaic on the exterior depicts the history of temple building.
The steel-framed building contains an auditorium with space for 2,100 guests, classrooms, club meeting rooms, and a library.
Various local lodges used to rent space for their meetings from the Scottish Rite, but as their membership numbers declined, many combined and no longer use the building, according to James Wolf, a Hancock Park resident and architect who also serves on the Park Mile Design Review Board, which is charged with approving the plans for the adaptive re-use of the building.
According to Wolf, the Masons contracted with a third party to lease the building for non-masonic uses, but eventually ran afoul of the neighborhood when operators began staging concerts and large parties. After a long, protracted legal battle, neighbors got the City to revoke the Conditional Use Permit and the building was shuttered, becoming a target for graffiti and other vandalism. The purchase by the Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation in July 2013 was considered by most neighbors to be a welcome and acceptable use of the building.
“It’s a wonderful adaptive re-use of a historic building,” said Wolf. “Something the community can use, but it’s not intruding on the community.
“I suppose that I am delighted that such a significant building is being adapted respectfully to both its architectural context and to its neighborhood,” said Caroline Labiner, architect, Windsor Square resident and member of thePark Mile Design Review Board. “The original architect, Millard Sheets, was an accomplished painter and sculptor so it is exciting that a collection assembled with a personal vision will be housed and accessible there – showing off both the building and the artwork.”
Leading the renovation of the building is Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY, whose website describes the project as
“conceived as an ‘Art City’, the building is being re-imagined as a space for the display, research, performance and making of contemporary art and will include a variety of temporary exhibition spaces for installations by international and local artists.
Plans will allow for viewing galleries of all sizes, from the very large to the more intimate. In concert with these, the development of a flexible program and building will give the Foundation an opportunity to serve a variety of uses, such as individual visitors, school groups and special events.”
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Maurice Marciano, who served at one time as a co-chairman of MOCA, hopes to make the museum about Los Angeles artists and their work.
“I love artists’ thought process — how everything around them becomes art,” Marciano says in the WSJ. “I don’t want this to feel like a regular institution. We don’t need another MOCA or Broad or Hammer Museum. It has to be different, or why do it? We want to be an incubator for artists.” (Note: the article can only be viewed by WSJ subscribers.)