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7 of LA's Most Magnificent Examples of Masonic Architecture

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Possibly the world's oldest fraternal organization, Freemasonry dates back to the 1400s and has been a rich source of fodder for conspiracy theorists pretty much ever since. It's not a cult or a religion, but it is a close-knit, very old, and historically mysterious organization, with close ties to power. Further causes for suspicion include the organization's fondness for secret handshakes and initiation rites, its pompous jargon, and its exclusionary membership policies (atheists, for instance, are not allowed). Just as important as all the people who have been kept out is who's been invited in: 14 presidents, five Supreme Court justices, J. Edgar Hoover, John Jacob Astor, et cetera, et cetera.

Here in Los Angeles, local Masonic lodges have counted Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, WC Fields, Cecil B. DeMille, DW Griffith, John Wayne, Gene Autry, Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck, and Nat King Cole among their members. For a significant part of the twentieth century, the Masons maintained a prominent presence in the city's landscape, but as mores changed, membership shrank. While nowadays the group may be far from the powerful force it once was (as far as we know), its legacy lives on in the many architecturally ornate structures that were built to accommodate its meetings and ceremonies; below, a look at some of the most notable old Masonic buildings in Los Angeles.

[B&W photos via LA Dept of Water & Power; others via Wikipedia]

Hollywood Masonic Temple
6840 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Neo-Classical temple was designed in 1921 by architect/32nd-degree Mason John C. Austin, whose other projects include Griffith Observatory and Los Angeles City Hall. Spearheading the job was real estate magnate and Hollywood Lodge master Charles E. Toberman, developer of such landmarks as the Hollywood Bowl, the El Capitan Theater, and the Roosevelt Hotel. Purchased by Disney in 1998, the building is now known as the El Capitan Entertainment Centre, and has been home since 2008 to Jimmy Kimmel Live.

[Photos via Shrine Auditorium]

The Shrine Auditorium
665 West Jefferson Boulevard, Los Angeles
Per the invaluable Big Orange Landmarks, the full name for the Shrine Auditorium is "Al Malaikah Shriners Ancients Arabic Order Nobles of Mystic Shrine." Got that? Good. An offshoot of the Masons, the Shriners organization was formed in 1872. Best known for wearing fezzes, driving tiny cars, and holding big conventions, the group's 1920s HQ in Exposition Park was designed by our old pal John C. Austin, who did the exterior, and G. Albert Lansburgh—the celebrated theater architect behind El Capitan, the Orpheum, and the Wiltern—who did the interior. For many years the massive Spanish-Moorish complex was the favored site for Tinseltown's big award ceremonies, but nowadays the Shrine mostly hosts concerts and events such as this weekend's Festival Supreme.

[Photos via Hollywood Forever Facebook]

Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood
This Spanish Baroque structure on the outskirts of Hollywood Forever cemetery was built in 1931 by the renowned firm of Morgan, Walls & Clements to accommodate Southland Lodge No. 617. According to its National Register of Historic Places documentation, the architects employed a completely new wall texturing technique to achieve an ashlar stone effect on concrete monolithic walls, and also designed special furnishings and light fixtures for the interiors in the Spanish Renaissance style. The Masons moved out in the '60s, and today the Lodge is used to host concerts and alt-comedy shows.

[Photos via Geffen Playhouse]

Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood
One of the first twelve structures erected in Westwood Village was the Masonic Affiliates Clubhouse, built for the benefit of UCLA students and alumni who were related to Masons. Designed by the prolific Morgan, Walls & Clements (who also did the El Capitan and Mayan theaters), the 1929 Spanish-Mediterranean-style clubhouse hosted ping-pong tourneys, tea dances, Mardi Gras balls, and study sessions until its conversion in World War II to a US Army barrack. A theater since the '70s, it was renamed the Geffen Playhouse in 1995 after David Geffen made a $5 million donation. Geffen's foundation also contributed $5 million to the theater's $17-million renovation. Completed in 2005 by Ronald Frink Architects, the project was honored with a Preservation Award by the LA Conservancy.

[Photos via Pasadena Masonic Temple]

Pasadena Masonic Temple
200 South Euclid Avenue, Pasadena
Completed in 1927 in a Beaux-Arts Classical style, the Pasadena Masonic Temple was designed by the prominent local firm of Cyril Bennett and Fitch Haskell, who were also Masons. Other notable Bennett & Haskell projects include Pasadena's Civic Auditorium and All Saints Episcopal Church. The elegant temple is still home to five local Masonic groups, but can also be rented out for weddings and other events (Thursday nights are Lindy Groove nights!).

[Photos by Elizabeth Daniels]

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple
4357 Wilshire Boulevard

Designed in 1961 by the multitalented Millard Sheets, Wilshire Boulevard's Scottish Rite Masonic Temple boasts one of the artist-architect's largest-ever mosaics, tracing the history of Freemasonry from King Solomon to modern California times, while its giant Italian travertine relief sculptures depict figures such as Imhotep, builder of the pyramids; British architect Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St. Paul's Cathedral in London; and Founding Father George Washington, who was a member of the order. Due to declining membership and rising maintenance costs, the organization vacated the premises and put the temple up for sale in the 1990s. In 2013, it was reported that Guess? founders Maurice and Georges Marciano had purchased the distinctive building for $8 million, and plan to turn it into a private art museum for their personal art collections.

North Hollywood Masonic Temple
5122 Tujunga Avenue, North Hollywood
NoHo's Mayan-Modern-style temple was designed in 1949 by Robert Stacy-Judd, the eccentric architect of the Aztec Hotel, in association with North Hollywood architect and lodge member John Aleck Murrey. Founded in the 1920s, Lodge 542 counted many actors, movie studio employees and even studio heads among its membership, including Clark Gable, John Wayne, the Warner brothers, and Laurel and Hardy. Still an active lodge today, it hosts a stated meeting dinner the first Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm that is open to the public.
· Cults Week [Curbed LA]