Hollywood Night Life Brightens : Masonic Temple to Reopen as Entertainment Center
A celebrity preview with attendant fanfare--red carpet, ice sculptures and klieg lights--will launch the Hollywood Live Entertainment Pavilions at 6840 Hollywood Blvd. on Wednesday, followed by a public opening Thursday.
James Hoseyni, the Detroit real estate developer and nightclub entrepreneur who originated the project, signed a 20-year lease last February with 6840 Hollywood Associates, an affiliate of Westmark Development (of which Nicholas Olaerts and Thomas Harnsberger are general partners), to occupy the landmark former Hollywood Masonic Temple.
Undaunted by the price escalation on the property since it was sold by the Masons for $700,000 in 1982, Hoseyni has invested $1.5 million to transform the landmark lodge into a versatile entertainment center, and fully anticipates exercising his three-year, $2.7-million option to buy.
The 33-year-old Iranian-born bachelor lives up to the name of his firm, Dynamic Investment & Management (a partnership division of Belco Inc. of Michigan). He came to Hollywood (after successfully creating and managing the Cotton Club in Detroit, which he still owns), with the same kind of vision and gumption displayed by early film makers when there was little more than orange groves and dusty roads on which to build their “moving picture” empires.
“After we had negotiated to the lower purchase figure of $2.7 million, I was given five days to decide. My instincts told me to jump in. I felt it was a good risk,” said Hoseyni, who also is a non-practicing medical doctor.
Hollywood’s drawbacks may differ today, but the uncertainty of its future is still a challenge for the present-day newcomers eager to join in Hollywood’s revitalization effort and uphold its legendary image of riches and glitz.
Located on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard, between Highland and La Brea avenues, Hollywood Live is directly across the street from the sites of Melvin Simon’s Promenade complex and a block away from the Hollywood Galaxy (both planned for construction).
Hollywood Live, which hopes to draw its clientele primarily from the up-and-coming younger set, Hoseyni said, will house a 250-seat cabaret, 500-seat jazz theater and an 800-person dance club.
The purchaser of the property in 1982, singer Rosita LaBello, had envisioned turning the Masonic Temple into the Hollywood Opera & Theater Co. and even produced a few operatic programs there before financial problems intervened.
Construction crews under the guidance of Hoseyni, architect Donald Bruce Randall (the Randall/Baylon Partnership of Los Angeles) and Tehran-born Kamal Kamooneh, a 30-year veteran architect (who has supervised most of the creative restoration on the building), are now working on a tight deadline to complete the project in time for a star-studded pre-opening party Wednesday.
The columned classic structure, built in 1922, was designed by the noted architectural firm of John C. Austin, Field & Frey and, since being designated a historic landmark, carries special restrictions.
“We’ve had some real problems bringing the building up to fire and seismic codes, upgrading its infrastructure, while also incorporating appropriate access for the handicapped,” said Randall, who developed the since-revised renovation blueprint for a previous owner.
“The Masonic Temple was a private club when it was built and not designed to the same specifications required for public use.”
Lavish Interiors Restored
A major enhancement, he added, was the relocation of the rest rooms to the basement level, allowing for additional activity space on the ground floor. The lavish interiors of the original spacious Blue Hall and Red Hall have been restored and adapted to accommodate a disc jockey’s podium, special electronic and lighting equipment and bars.
“We hope to create a very special place,” Hoseyni said, adding that a $10 cover charge will provide entry to all entertainment areas, and allow patrons a change of pace from the activity of a dance club and cabaret scene to a more restful piano lounge environment.
“We will enforce a dress code and strict security,” he added, “and also provide valet parking. I think people will be drawn to this kind of supervised environment.”
The three-story building was once the pride and joy of the Masons during the 1920s after Charles E. Toberman, a Mason and Hollywood’s foremost builder and developer, led the project to completion. Toberman was responsible for the building of other Hollywood landmark structures, including Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, El Capitan (Paramount) Theatre, Barker Bros. building, the Roosevelt Hotel and Grauman’s (Mann’s) Chinese Theatre, across the street.
An unusual method to help finance the new temple was conceived by Toberman and fellow member Charles Boag. They organized a Hollywood Masonic Club with life membership subscriptions at $100.
The invitation was extended to other Masonic lodges and pulled in a substantial sum that considerably reduced the property mortgage.
Records provided by Glen Gladson, a past Masonic master and longtime treasurer of the Hollywood Masonic Lodge, revealed an original building cost of $176,678, a sum of $56,421 allotted to furniture and fixtures and $36,295 for the purchase of the lot.
By 1923, the mortgage had been reduced to $95,000 and the years that followed were prosperous for Masonic activities as they were for the growing town of Hollywood.
A tourist brochure singing the praises of the booming mid-’20s, listed the population within Hollywood’s 25 square miles at 150,000 (which had doubled in six years), 19 studios, 250 producing companies, 33 banks, 14 movie theaters and four legitimate theaters, 18 hotels, 39 churches, 18 private and parochial schools, and 40 miles of streetcar tracks serving the community in that decade.
Difficulties in the ‘30s
“The 1930s were a different story, as the club annals reveal,” Gladson said. The Depression years brought serious financial difficulties into play.
“The failure of the huge Guaranty Building & Loan Assn. of Hollywood rocked Hollywood to its foundation and the life savings of many of the lodge members, many of whom were leading citizens of the community, were lost.”
For the first time, the commercialization of the ground floor of the temple was considered. The quarters of the Masonic Club were relegated to the basement so that the space could be rented to a social club, later found to be using an illegal slot machine on the premises, “indicating that it too was having its financial troubles,” according to Masonic records.
In 1948, the temple was filled with more than 300 of the film industry’s celebrities for the funeral services for pioneer silent film producer and director D. W. Griffith.
Temple members put the building up for sale in 1982 because of the prohibitive expense of upgrading the building to meet revised fire and seismic codes. “By then, the environment along the boulevard had also pitifully deteriorated,” Gladson said.
He seemed pleased with the restoration plans and new life projected for the former Hollywood Masonic Temple.
For Hoseyni, perhaps the words of an ancient Masonic benediction will echo from the temple walls. “May no strife disturb thy days, not sorrow disturb thy nights; may the pillow of peace kiss thy cheek, and the pleasures of imagination attend thy dreams. . . .”
It's a date
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