Marciano Art Foundation

photo by: Yoshiro Makino, Courtesy of wHY and Marciano Art Foundation

September 12, 2017

Inside a 1960s Masonic Temple, a New Art Museum in Los Angeles

  • By: Lauren Walser

The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple is an imposing, enigmatic building on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Designed in 1961 by architect Millard Sheets, it was a gathering space for a local order of the Freemasons, a fraternal organization long shrouded in secrecy. The hulking marble and travertine building appears almost windowless, with cryptic symbols, mosaics, sculptures, and biblical and historical quotations along the exterior walls. Sheets designed the building with more mosaics and sculptures on the inside, too, plus classrooms, meeting rooms, a library, a 2,000-seat auditorium, and a dining hall.

But few ever got to see the inside—only the Masons.

These days, anyone can roam the halls of the temple, as it’s now home to the Marciano Art Foundation, a contemporary art space featuring more than 1,500 works of art by more than 200 artists from the 1990s to today. The work exhibited spans the different mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, performance, and film. There’s also an entire room devoted to Freemasonry artifacts.

lobby

photo by: Robert Wedemeyer, Courtesy of Marciano Art Foundation

The lobby of the Marciano Art Foundation.

This new museum is the creation of GUESS? Jeans cofounders and brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano, who moved to the city from the South of France in 1981 and began collecting contemporary art in 2006. Years later, they began dreaming of sharing their collection, establishing the Marciano Art Foundation in 2012. The following year, they purchased the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, vacant and languishing since declining membership led the Masons to leave the space in the mid-1990s.

The brothers hired architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY to convert the 110,000-square-foot, steel-framed building into a museum. The firm restored the temple's exterior features, while also adding a parking lot and a large outdoor sculpture garden.

Inside, taking advantage of the high ceilings and long expanses of windowless walls, the firm created more than 55,000 square feet of exhibition space.

On the ground floor, the spacious lobby, with its original travertine wall panels, pulls double duty as an exhibition space. Behind the elevator bank, the old auditorium was transformed into a gallery. And on the top floor, the steel beams of the old ballroom’s ceiling were exposed and the room was turned into yet another expansive space to showcase works of art. The architects and designers at wHY also added art storage areas, a cafe, and a bookstore.

It’s a dramatic transformation, but one that keeps the building’s original secrets still largely intact.

The Marciano Art Foundation is located at 4357 Wilshire Boulevard. It is free to the public, but tickets must be reserved online in advance.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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