Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.
Photo by Bhautik Joshi
Over the years Curbed SF has covered the battle over use of the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium as a concert venue. But what exactly is the masonic temple that houses it? The Nob Hill site may date from the 1950s, but the Grand Masonic Lodge of California has a history that goes back to the Gold Rush days.
From stonecarvers to a fraternal order, the history of the Freemasons go way back, but the first meetings in California were held here in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. 728 Montgomery Street was the location of the first meeting of Freemasons held in California in 1849, and is listed as a state historic landmark. The original meeting site is no longer standing, but the lot is now occupied by the Genella Building built in 1854. Within 10 years, the number of Masonic lodges in California had grown from 11 to 130.
Masonic lodges are the organizational groups, and the buildings that house their meeting rooms are called masonic halls, or masonic temples. Recognized as a mid-century gem, the California Masonic Memorial Temple at 1111 California Street was built in 1958. It's part Masonic building, part public event venue, with Grand Masonic Lodge of California admin offices, a Masonic library and museum, and its controversial live event auditorium. Nob Hill residents weren't psyched about the idea of Live Nation concerts bringing in crowds and traffic, but reached an agreement in February by capping the number of live events to 54 concerts per year with an additional 25 cultural/comedy events per year; controls on alcohol consumption, and Live Nation and the Masons making ongoing contributions in support of a new Huntington Park Preservation fund.
One of the hot spots is the 38x48' mosaic mural by California artist Emile Norman depicting the history of Masonic heritage in California. It's made out of everything but the kitchen sink - thousands of bits of metal, parchment, felt, linen, silk, natural foliage, veggie pieces, shells and sea life, and stained glass. The mural also has a frieze made up of gravels and soils from the 58 counties of California and the Islands of Hawaii. The building´s façade also features an Emile Norman war memorial sculpture, of four 12-foot-high figures representing the branches of the armed forces.