Lost Masonic temple, Los Angeles,

Something Lost: The Los Angeles Scottish Rite Cathedral

window, sculpture, Scottish Rite
Stained glass in Los Angeles Acottish Rite Temple.

I spent some time last weekend visiting the Marciano Art Foundation (and gallery) in Los Angeles. It is an amazing space with near limitless potential almost in the heart of the city of angels. What makes the space relevant to Freemasons is that the space that the Foundation Galley occupies was once the jewel of modern Freemasonry as the Los Angeles Scottish Rite Cathedral.

Building a Masonic Temple

sculpture, Albert Stewart, Los Angeles
the Double Headed Eagle of the Scottish Rite.

Built in 1961, the Scottish Rite Temple was the design by Millard Owen Sheets, a prominent American artist in the early century known for his mosaics on the mid-century Home Savings of America banks that populated California. His work stretched well beyond the Golden states adorning buildings with his mosaic and collections of collaborative artists work. Sheets was not a Mason but in his discussions with the then temple board, his charge was to construct a temple of epic proportions. Sheets own words in describing the project, recalls the project this way:

…I was surprised by the tremendous number of things that had to be incorporated in this temple. First of all, the upper degrees of [Scottish Rite] Masonry are given in an auditorium, and they are given in the form of plays. They have incredible costumes and magnificent productions of the basic concepts that are ethical and have at heart a religious depth, and they draw from many religions, as far as I understand. I’m not a Mason, but I do feel that it’s a tremendous attempt toward the freedom of man as an individual, and the rights of man as an individual, and respect for various races and creeds. I won’t say this is always obtained, but certainly, that’s been the spirit. They felt that they wanted to depict this in every form.

He goes on to describe the huge mural on the eastern wall, describing it as:

The huge mosaic on the exterior east end of the temple at that time was the largest mosaic I’d ever made. It starts out with the builders of the temple from the days of Jerusalem, and King Solomon, who built the temple, and Babylon. Then it jumps up to the Persian emperor, Zerubbabel. When the Crusaders went to the Holy Land, they built a place called Acre, which is still a very important historical monument to the period of the crusaders. Of course, there were other temples and I showed Rheims cathedral in the process of building. I showed the importance of [Giuseppe] Garibaldi, the Mason who broke away from the Roman Catholic church because of what he felt was its limitations and dogmatism. Ever since then, there’s been a certain quarrel, I gather, between the Masons and the Catholics. Then there is King Edward VII in his Masonic regalia as one of the great grandmasters. We had the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which is part of the King Edward section. I think the final part of that mosaic shows the first grand master of California in his full regalia being invested in Sacramento. It’s a kind of historical thing going way back to the ancient temple builders and coming right up through to actual California history, which the California sun at the top symbolizes.

Millard Sheets, mosaic, Los Angeles, Scottish Rite
Millard Sheets History of Freemasonry mosaic in Los Angeles.

The mural he surmises represents that law and concepts of religion were involved in the great temples. Certainly, the Gothic cathedrals were the book for the people who couldn’t read. Well, they didn’t think of the American people not being able to read, but they wanted to show graphically the intensity of feeling throughout history toward the Meaning of Masonry.

In like manner, Sheets worked with sculptor Albert Stewart to adorn the master builders of history along the edifice.

The work and consideration alone that went into the temple might well be enough to say it was a great asset and jewel in the crown of Freemasonry. But like all crowns, they tarnish with time and often fall from the heads of the kings they once adorned.

Heyday of Masonry

By 1994, the Scottish Rite Temple in Los Angeles was all but abandoned. The Los Angeles Conservancy says of the space that it was the result of “years of declining membership” that the temple was vacated.

By their own telling, the Los Angeles Scottish Rite says of the temple that, “Due to zoning changes in Los Angeles over the years, it was increasingly difficult — and finally impossible — for the Valley to generate the revenue from renting the Cathedral necessary to maintain the building. It eventually became unavoidable that the building should be sold, which was accomplished in 2013.”

Ironic when you consider by its own admission that the Valley of Los Angeles held a “…one day class of 330 candidates in November 1974, [bringing] the membership to over 11,000. In 1980, Los Angeles was the largest Valley in the second largest Orient in the Southern Jurisdiction, and the 14th largest Valley in the Jurisdiction.”

And yet, this modern imposing temple fell into ruin.

After abandoning the temple it sat nearly empty save for a few unremarkable semi-urban businesses in the ground floor foyer. I remember that time, passing the building in awe at its grandiose presence and bewildered at the neon atm sign unintelligently fixed to its entryway. By all accounts, it could have been a Roman ruin in a landscape that had moved on and forgotten it.

But that was Freemasonry then

Millard Sheets, Scottish Rite, Los Angeles
Foyer at the Marciano Art Foundation.

In 2013, the temple was given a new lease on life in the hands of Maurice and Paul Marciano granting “the public access to the Marciano Art Collection (now closed) through presentations of rotating thematic exhibitions.”

Upon visiting, my first impression was that space is remarkable. Entering from the garage and walking through the foyer, it was impossible to not feel the energy of what it had been constructed for. Indeed, I had entered hallowed ground. It still felt like a once great Scottish Rite Hall. Standing at point, in the near pitch blackness of what was once the theater space, now the art installation of Olafur Eliasson’s Reality projector, I felt compelled to give the signs of the degrees — there, by my self, for the ghosts of the past to see that a brother had come to visit.

More on Masonic Art in Los Angeles.

Perhaps it was at this point that a deep feeling of sadness began to stir. That feeling stayed with me while I looked at the art. But, that stirring became a tempest of emotion when on the last stop in the space, in a small red-carpeted room in the north-west corner of the building. There, in the small ‘room’ sat the “artifacts” left by the “Masons who abandoned the building.” I use quotes here as these were the words used by the docent stationed in the space to tell interested visitors what the strange aprons and funny hats were.

Relics of the Life Masonic

relics, Freemasonry, Scottish Rite, hats, Los Angeles
The relic room of Masonic artifacts left behind at the Marciano Art Foundation in the Old Scottish Rite in Los Angeles.

Unremarkable to anyone familiar with the fraternity, in the room was an odd collection of ritual ephemera, staging books, old New Age magazines, odds and ends of the life masonic, and a padded altar bench. To the lay observer, these things are oddities in a building full of modern art — trinkets of a bygone era “…left behind by the Masons before they abandoned the building.”

I can’t say for certain if it was the space, the items in the space or the words taken in the context of the aforementioned relics of what Freemasonry once was. Leaving the relic room, I was moved to tears — not for the casual housing of materials sacred to me, but tears for what those relics once represented to the people in the space. To the owners of the history that poured the foundation and raised the marble edifice. Perhaps more so, the thought that this was the future of Freemasonry. That an empty building full of abandoned “relics” was really what lay at the end of it all.

Yes, the building is just a building, but it effects the priest no less to see the church he loves dearly, laid low by a fire or an earthquake.

Masons are builders and buildings can be replaced. Walking through the bones of a structure built to show the “intensity of feeling throughout history toward the Meaning of Masonry” felt like a priest walking through the ashes of his fallen church.

working tools, past master jewel, trowel, mallet, rough ashlar
Some of the “relics” of Freemasonry at the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles.

I wanted to feel optimistic about the space. I wanted to appreciate it for what it once was.

Instead, I left haunted—feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Not at the space or the modern art within its walls.

I left feeling haunted by the ghosts of what it once was.

Sheets went on to design the San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Center building, a structure in perpetual use to this day. And, the Scottish Rite’s Valley of Los Angeles retains a presence meeting at the Santa Monica Masonic Center.

And yet, the bones of the cathedral remain in the heart of the city. A fitting fate for the Royal Art in the city of angels.

Lost Masonic Art

The following is some of the imagery and iconography that still adorns the exterior of the old Scottish Rite in Los Angeles.

You can read more on the theme of being a Priest for Freemasonry in the book, The Master Mason.

Brother Ryan J. Flynn, The Most Influential Masonic Artist In America

Once again we visit the great Masonic artist Ryan J. Flynn. There is little that you can write anymore that does justice to what this Brother is doing with and for art. You have to see it to believe it. So Phoenixmasonry Live’s December 2016 program SHOWS you what words cannot do justice to. And as he shows us his creations, his description of how he does it will truly amaze you.

Flynn says:

“Freemasonry is not a brand name; it is not Nike, it is not Starbucks. Freemasonry is an ideal, an organization of men who, when gathered together, strive for the absolute best in all of us, and they settle for nothing less. I fervently believe that Masonic works of art should strive to meet the same ideal.”

“I pledge that you will never see me settle for average, plain or quick. I will never brand something with a square and compass and call it “Masonic.” To call something “Masonic” means that it is a direct representation of the Craft, and thus should be educational, symbolic and meaningful; something that I strive to do in all my work. Of course, having a shirt embroidered with my lodge is something I would love to wear, but this, although adorned with our symbols, is merely Masonic in name and not substance.”

“Substance is what drives good art, and it is what drives me to create works that truly honors the Craft that I so love dearly.”

Phoenixmasonry hopes that this video will be a permanent part of your library and that you will carry Flynn’s message of appreciation of Masonic art to your Brethren.

To contact Flynn or purchase his work go to:  http://www.ryanjflynn.comin-thy-name-we-have-assembled




Phoenixmasonry’s monthly Masonic artifact for December is McBeth Masonic knives and an excellent interview with Jim McBeth highlighting his unique handcrafted knives is included in this video.



A Great Masonic Lodge, A Great Masonic Guest Speaker Made A Super Masonic Evening

On a weekend late in February of 2016, I traveled to Oklahoma for a special Masonic event. It was the Spring Festive Board (untyled) for Lodge Veritas No 556, Grand Lodge of Oklahoma.

(Turn up the volume full for Bro. Flynn’s presentation)

We met at The Greens Country Club in Oklahoma City in full Masonic dress. There we started off the evening with cigars and the adult beverage of  choice on the deck outside. As the sun slowly faded behind the horizon and the moon readied to take over, we gathered around a table with a mini fire pit and let the brotherly love flow. Some notable attendees were PGM Richard Massad and 33rd Bob Davis.

There Was Camaraderie

What seemed like all too soon, we adjourned to the dining room for toasts, prayer, singing and great food.

Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast

Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast


Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast

Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast


Lodge Veritas No 556 Singing

Lodge Veritas No 556 Singing

There Was A Great Gastronomic Experience

The special guest speaker was Masonic artist Ryan Flynn who made an enlightening presentation on art in Freemasonry from the Middle Ages to the present. Flynn showed us how to look for hidden meanings and symbolism and where they were in some of the great works in history.

Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn's Presentation

Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation


Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn's Presentation

Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation


Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn's Presentation

Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation


Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn's Presentation

Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation


There Was Masonic Education And Shared Knowledge

After closing the Festive Board we retired once again to the place from which we had started, the deck outside with the fire pit in the table. This time, it was dark. But that did not dampen the Masonic spirit in the slightest. Stories flowed back and forth and for some, new friendships were cemented for time immemorial.

There Was More Camaraderie

This experience was a lesson in how the practice of Freemasonry needs to be complimented. It is how our Masonic ancestors often gathered in taverns many moons ago. It makes the business of the Lodge the opening of the Masonic heart, the inspiring of the Masonic spirit and the sharing of esoteric knowledge to widen the Masonic mind all in a festive, celebratory setting. More Lodges should hold events like this. It is great for Lodge morale and Masonic bonding.

Making Freemasonry Great Again

When Greg Stewart interviewed me for a piece on Freemason Information, I can remember him asking me where is Freemasonry headed, what’s working right now and what isn’t? That was the gist of what he was asking – what path does Freemasonry take for the future?

I have gotten to thinking of that question once more after watching Lodge Veritas’ Ryan Flynn Festive Board Promo video. While Freemasonry has shown a sharp decrease in Lodge attendance in the 21st century so far, it has also shown a huge increase in Internet Freemasonry.

So while the idea of Freemasonry, its philosophy, has shown a marked increase in activity on the Internet, especially within Social Media and You Tube Videos, the practice of Freemasonry in person has tailed off. Could that be because Lodge Meetings no longer discuss ideas but are continually bogged down by administrative issues? And great ritual performances have been replaced by the marketing of Freemasonry and its push for recognition in society with an over emphasis on charitable pursuits?

I recall that I, as a Texas Prince Hall Freemason, recently attended a Third Degree at a Dallas Grand Lodge of Texas Lodge. The degree was well done, the charge spot on and the gathering at a restaurant afterward a significant bonding and camaraderie addition to the evening. Why can’t we do this all the time, I asked myself?

And then there was the Grand Raising at Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas at its recent Winter Grand Session where Masonic talent from all over the state contributed to a majestic event that sent goose bumps down one’s spine. Why can’t we do this all the time, I asked myself?

Aye, there’s the rub!

Maybe we as Freemasons don’t “think great” enough. Maybe we have allowed our once great dominant fraternity to diminish itself by too many mundane and trivial pursuits. Maybe we don’t have the “fire in the belly” for our Craft anymore.

I have no crystal ball so I can’t tell you where Freemasonry is headed. I can tell you that Lodge Veritas in Oklahoma gets it. They understand what it will take, to borrow aTrump phrase, to make Freemasonry great again. After you watch the video, you will too. And…Brother Flynn is a great artist!

Michael Jackson’s Masonic Resting Place

Michael Jackson is said to be interred in his final resting place today at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.  But few, outside of certain circles, know that amidst the beautiful statues and reliquaries stands a lonely Masonic memorial, that is in fact one of the largest sculptures on the grounds.

Once upon a time, Freemasonry was huge in Los Angeles, so big in fact that it managed to carve out a section of the now prestigious cemetery to the stars.

Buried on the grounds of the park are celebrities a plenty including: Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Pickford, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, George Burns & Gracie Allen, W.C. Fields, Tom Mix, Clayton Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Walt Disney, Red Skelton, Robert Young, Lon Chaney, Nat King Cole, Sid Grauman, Louis L’Amour to name but a few.  And for those really paying attention, you may notice a few Masonic Brothers on the list.

There in a quiet and some what isolated corner of the park stands a lone Masonic memorial surrounded by hundreds (maybe thousands) of grave markers decorated not by the signs of their respective faiths but by the Square and Compass.  After looking around for a few minutes, it becomes clear that this portion of the cemetery is a Masonic cemetery.

And, its no surprise, the founder of the Memorial Park himself was a brother of the white apron, whose Masonic history is chronicled in Denslow’s 10,000 Famous Freemasons saying of him:

Hubert Eaton – (June 3, 1881 – September 20, 1966) Originator of the “memorial-park” plan for cemeteries, substituting tablets set level with the lawn for tombstones, providing art collections, historical buildings, etc., thereby revolutionizing cemeteries throughout the U.S. He is known as “the builder” of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Calif., which is noted for its collection of stained glass works of American sculptors and recreations of Last Supper and Calvary. b. June 3, 1881 at Liberty, Mo., he graduated from William Jewell Coll. in Liberty in 1902. A chemist, he has been associated with many of the main mining companies of America including Anaconda, Teziutlan Copper (Mexico), Adaven Mining (Nev.). Raised in Euclid Lodge No. 58, Great Falls, Mont. in 1905 and presently member of Southern California Lodge No. 278, Los Angeles. Member of Liberty Chapter No. 3, R.A.M., Liberty, Mo., Los Angeles Commandery No. 9, K.T., Al Malaikah Shrine of Los Angeles and of Shrine Patrol. Served as junior deacon of his lodge.

In 2007, I was able to spend the afternoon at the memorial with my wife, and during that brief excursion, I was able to explore the reverential memorial, and pay homage to my beloved passed brethren.  With so many passed fellow travelers in the shadow of the memorial, and the monument itself, the experience impressed upon me that at one point (in the not to distant past) Freemasonry was HUGE here and really important to these brothers laid to rest around the memorial.

Read more on Masonic Art in Los Angeles.

Rather than go into great detail in describing the memorial, I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves.  But I do want to say that despite all the hoopla of the media circus that will surround Michael Jackson’s final resting place, the cemetery of his choosing is also a quiet memorial to Freemasonry and the brothers who have come this way before.

Click the thumbnail for a larger image.

templar engraving, masonic knights, templar seal

The new age of Masonic Expression and the continued excellence of David Naughton-Shires

David Naughton-ShiresWhen I first started expressing myself in Freemasonry the medium that I used was the one which all the great old Masters of Masonic scholarship used – the word, the printed word.  So I wrote many words, words of explaining, of informing, of changing, of reform – so many words.  Isn’t that what every Masonic author does – conveying his or her messages in many words?

stephen dafoe, compass and the cross, book, legend of the knight templarThen along came Stephen Dafoe who, within Freemasonry, decided words are nice, they are the very bread and butter of every author, but they are not the totality of an integrated work of scholarship.  What an author’s work needs, proposed Dafoe, was proper illustration and artwork.  So Dafoe was meticulous about the covers to his books and the magazines he published.  He hired Steve McKim to produce some beautiful artwork for his covers and some for the inside pages.  Dafoe would always add many illustrations and pictures to his work and if you take a look at Nobly Born and The Compasses and the Cross you can see the development of this style to its utmost perfection. You can’t read a Dafoe work today with just words, or let’s say not very often anyway.

Then along came Greg Stewart.  He wasn’t writing books but he was still in the profession of Masonic scholarship.  Stewart is very good with words but he is also an excellent graphic designer and an originator of some of his own Masonic artwork. Stewart immediately saw the need in online Masonic websites for a marriage of the printed word and the visual.  Right from the start on his websites you could actually visualize what he was also writing, culminating in his remake of Freemason Information into a consortium of Masonic writers where with the expertise of Dean Kennedy he crafted a website using word, pictures & artwork and video.

Words without pictures leaves little to the imagination and often allows no room for personalization of the message.  The author is leading the reader in a direction he wants to take him/her only utilizing the printed word. The journey is well structured but if the reader becomes claustrophobic or fails to connect with the intent of the author the two will part company.

Pictures without words allows the observer’s imagination to wander off in a hundred different directions at once.  There is not enough structure for the artist to be sure that the receiver understands the message that he wishes to convey.

When words and pictures are used together the mind can be brought back into a narrower focus on what the author is trying to convey, yet there is room for the reader to personalize the message and through the powers of imagination carry it into his or her own life experiences.

5612_109646175977_519860977_2266747_2870014_nWhich leads us to symbols.  Symbols are a representation of a concept.  They are drawings with a definite purpose in mind. Whether it is the Cross, the Golden Arches or the Square and Compasses, they are a picture with unspoken words attached.  That is why they are so powerful; they can do double duty simultaneously. And that is why multi talented creators like Dafoe & Stewart who can turn a good word while at the same time provide great visual effects that enhance their work are so successful at what they do.  Now put them in a setting where the use of symbols runs strong and you provide them with the ultimate opportunity to unleash their creativity.  Add to that the fact that both men are excellent speakers and have produced Masonic radio shows to compliment the rest of their work and you have two artists who have the ability to present their work using many different avenues of perception.

Nobody knows this better than David Naughton-Shires.  He may be the newcomer to the scene but he is following in the footsteps of Dafoe and Stewart. He understands, as they do, how important the use of all the human senses is in the creation of the work of an artist. He realizes that in order to get one’s work recognized, a creator has to appeal to the observer in many different ways. It is my humble opinion that Naughton-Shires is no newcomer to the knowledge of these facts nor is he new to the ability to produce such integrated work but that it has been his involvement with Freemasonry that is new to him and that has unleashed his creativity and ability into actual great creations and enabled his work to be noticed.  And that is because, in my opinion, the power of the symbolism of Freemasonry is so great, so strong and so conducive to the creative artist being able to express himself that it just opens an artist’s creative juices to full flow.  Freemasonry is the best platform from which to create great works because of its great symbolism, its long history spanning centuries, and its message of passion for nobleness, righteousness and equality.  There are very few other settings that are as conducive to opening up the greatness of an artist.

templar engraving, masonic knights, templar sealNauthton-Shires is carrying the New Age Of Masonic Expression into its next phase.  He has a little twist on the applications of Dafoe and Stewart.  Rather than producing words with enhancing visual effects, he is producing the visual, artwork, enhanced by words. This removes Masonic scholarship even further away from the bookshelves.  Soon applications such as Power Point presentations which can be shown almost like movies will be a Masonic creative specialty and I have no doubt that a man like Naughton-Shires will be leading the pack in taking Masonic expression into deeper and unexplored waters.

blood_cross-242x300That being said Naughton-Shires is proving he is no flash in the pan, no fluke, no 90-day wonder. Rather what I see is continued growth and depth of presentation in his work as demonstrated by his latest Issue 3 of The Masonic Art Exchange Newsletter.  He has adopted a Knights Templar theme for the next four or five issues and this Newsletter is sort of an introduction to Templar art. Naughton-Shires asserts:

“Most of the ‘standard’ Templar art is seen in almost every book, magazine and article on the warriors who wore the red cross, and I will attempt to include this in my article but I hope to show art by lesser known modern day artists in the issues that will cover this subject.”

MAE_cover1_3-212x300The cover page of this issue is a compelling picture of a Knight Templar called “Fear” and painted by the brilliant Argentinean artist Ignacio Bazan.

And Naughton-Shires outstanding feature article in issue #3 is titled, The Art of The Knight Templars:  Artistic Representations of The Crusader Knights of God. In it he features the story and work of Benedictine Monk Mathew Paris and a plethora of early Templar art.  Later issues will feature more modern Templar paintings and drawings.

The Knights Templar have been as Naughton-Shires says, “an enigma for many years.” Yet they hold an amazing attraction for modern day society that just can’t seem to get enough of the “lore of the Knights.” Like many of us Naughton-Shires has the “Templar bug” and I asked him what first intrigued him about this society?

“I have had a keen interest in the Templar since watching the movie Ivanhoe many many years ago in which they are depicted as the ‘bad guys’; of course after research I discovered that as with any group there were bad guys indeed but also many good guys.”

Caballero-201x300There is one picture in the article that really caught my eye.  It looks like a tapestry and features green and orange colors.  I couldn’t quite make out what was going on in what looked like a story of some kind in pictures.

Naughton-Shires explains what he knows about this work of art:

“The image is of a twelve century map of Jerusalem which depicts a crusader knight in a white mantle assisting the other knights. It is believed to actually be a depiction of St George but this is based on the Latin inscription behind his head that reads Scs Georgius”

There is also an Apron article in this issue and some other tidbits not available for viewing at the time this article was written.  But then again, I wouldn’t want to tell you all the good things in Issue #3 of The Masonic Art Exchange’s Newsletter.  Better you should go find out for yourself.


4762_94091970977_519860977_2024766_3953554_nAnd as you do that note where Masonic scholarship seems to be going. We are entering a new age of Masonic Expression, one where the visual arts vault into first place ahead of the word.  And leading the charge is Naughton-Shires carrying the torch from Dafoe and Stewart who are shoo-ins for the 21st Century Masonic Hall of Fame. Sometimes the pupil surpasses the Master but that remains to be seen.

Naughton-Shires is still climbing the wall of stardom. It might behoove us all to grab onto his cable tow and let him pull us into greater heights of Light and once in awhile in the rough places, the precipices that do not hold, for some of us to pull him up and out.  The journey together, the journey shared is very rewarding. Naughton-Shires is beckoning for you to come along for the ride.  My advice is do it and don’t look back.