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Masons Forced to Put Scottish Rite Temple Up for Sale : Landmarks: As membership falls, the Wilshire Boulevard building has become too expensive. Zoning restrictions have also hurt.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The eight statues that stand guard outside the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple have made it a distinctive part of Wilshire Boulevard for more than 30 years.

But soon after an Easter program, the temple--which housed National Guard troops during the 1992 riots and has been used for funerals of police officers--will be fenced off and closed.

Headquarters for a branch of the Freemasons, the temple has become the victim of steadily declining membership and the Masons’ inability to maintain the expensive facility while abiding by zoning restrictions that limit rental opportunities.

“The well is dry,” said Gaylord Roten, manager of the building at 4375 Wilshire Blvd. “The members are just sick, but they can’t do anything about it.

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Temple officials have said that annual expenses, including utilities, taxes, salaries and security, run close to $750,000, but income from dues and rental fees amounts to only $275,000. Roten said the lodge’s membership has dwindled from a peak of about 12,000 in the 1970s to 5,000.

After the closure April 4, temple members will meet temporarily at the West Los Angeles Masonic Temple. They are looking at property on San Vicente Boulevard near Carthay Circle Park for their offices.

The temple’s zoning permit allows it to be rented only to nonprofit organizations and groups affiliated with the lodge. But the temple was unable to earn enough money to cover expenses under those restrictions, Roten said. After missing a chance to apply for a zoning variance in the late 1970s, temple officials ignored the restrictions and began renting to commercial groups.

Longstanding complaints by members of the Windsor Square Assn., a neighborhood homeowners group, about parking, noise and trash problems related to events at the temple led to public hearings and a City Council decision in December to enforce the zoning regulations.

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Despite efforts to cut expenses, temple officials decided they could no longer operate the building under those conditions, Roten said.

“We were like the Rock of Gibraltar,” Roten said of the massive, four-story structure that stretches along the north side of Wilshire between Lucerne and Plymouth boulevards. “We used marble imported from quarries in Italy. It’s a gorgeous building.”

The temple and its two-acre lot are for sale and a number of interested parties, including some churches, have toured it, Roten said.

It was designed by Millard O. Sheets, an artist and architectural designer who also painted three murals inside. Construction was completed in 1961.

Since then, the temple has been the scene of religious services, weddings, funerals, concerts and community meetings and events, in addition to serving as home base for the lodge’s activities.

The Los Angeles Police Department has used the building for funerals and other events, including a Special Weapons and Tactics team exercise. In 1992, National Guard troops deployed during and after the riots made the temple a temporary barracks with the cooperation of the membership, Roten said.

“We’ll be sad to see them go,” said Sgt. Ron Batesole, community relations officer with the LAPD’s Wilshire Division. “They were always there for us and they were good neighbors.”


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