The California Masonic Memorial Temple
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What Is the CMMT?
Welcome to the California Masonic Memorial Temple, one of San Francisco’s most impressive and historic buildings. Opened in 1958, the CMMT is the home of Freemasonry in California. But it’s so much more than that. The CMMT, also known as The Masonic, is also an important venue that has hosted—and continues to host—some of the most exciting and must-see events around. From its striking mid-century aesthetic (designed by the noted Bay Area architect Albert Roller) and its many esoteric references to its uses as both a public venue and the meeting place of the Masons of California, the CMMT is a true San Francisco icon.
The CMMT Today
Since it first opened 64 years ago, the California Masonic Memorial Temple has been an indispensable fixture of the Nob Hill community, hosting both private events for the Masons of California, and also public events for companies and patrons from around the world.
Most people probably know of the CMMT as the home of the iconic SF Masonic, a 3,300-seat concert and events auditorium managed by Live Nation, which puts on 79 events per year. Over the decades, the venue has hosted countless shows by the likes of Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, and Van Morrison—as well as comedians like Dave Chappelle, Ali Wong, and Amy Schumer.
The Annual Communication
One of the biggest yearly highlights at the CMMT is the Annual Communication of the Masons of California. The three-day event is the state fraternity’s annual meeting, which culminates with the election of a new Grand Master of California, the highest-ranking Mason in the state. Learn more about Freemasonry at the link below.
A Historic Exhibition Hall
Throughout the years, the CMMT has also played host to numerous business and corporate conferences in its large exhibition hall. Located within walking distance of the many iconic hotels of Nob Hill and Union Square, the CMMT Exhibition Hall was for many years one of the most sought-after spaces in the city, particularly prior to the opening of the Moscone Center downtown.
The Endomosaic Window
One of the true highlights of California Masonic Memorial Temple is the massive, 70-foot-long “endomosaic” window that dominates the main foyer and depicts the history and contributions of California Masons to the state’s history.
The artwork, created in 1956 by the late Big Sur artist Emile Norman, is neither a typical mosaic nor a stained-glass window. Rather, it is made up of more than 150 hues of crushed glass, plus other materials including soil, plant matter, and metals, all pressed between two large panes of acrylic, or plastic.
The “endomosaic” is made up of 45 panels divided into three vertical sections. From the central all-seeing eye to depictions of Masonic symbols and historical vignettes, the work is chock-full of esoteric iconography and allusions. To learn more about the artwork, click the link below.
A Labor of Love
The temple was many years in the making. First dreamed up in the immediate aftermath of World War II, it was meant as a memorial to Masons who'd made "the ultimate sacrifice" in the world wars. At the time, the Masonic fraternity was growing rapidly—from about 150,000 members in California in 1946 to almost double that by 1953.
Having outgrown its previous home at 25 Van Ness, the fraternity searched for a suitable location for a new building before settling on the corner of California and Taylor streets, directly across from Grace Cathedral and Huntington Park atop Nob Hill.
Costing more than $6 million to construct (a sum raised entirely through donations from California Masons), the temple was truly a group effort.
By Masons, For Everyone
The temple’s land purchase and construction costs were funded largely by donations from California Masons. In the early 1950s, members of the fraternity responded to a call to contribute “one day’s labor” to the cause—an average of about $10 per person. In all, the building cost more than $6 million.
Each member and lodge that contributed to the costs was memorialized in an “open book,” which is still displayed on the second floor of the main lobby.
From the Ground Up
Ground was broken on the temple's construction on Oct. 27, 1955. Nearly three years later, on Sept. 29, 1958, it was formally dedicated before the Annual Communication of the Masons of California. The temple was finally open.
Glitz and Glam
In 1965, the California Masonic Memorial Temple hosted the glamorous San Francisco International Film Festival, drawing Hollywood celebrities and the bright lights.
Benjamin Swig, owner of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, member of Lincoln Masonic Lodge No. 470, and an early booster of the California Masonic Memorial Temple, presents at the 1965 S.F. International Film Festival. Beside him are Shirley Temple and William J. Bird, the president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
A television presenter reports from outside the Masonic Auditorium at the 1965 S.F. International Film Festival.
A Venue for All
Over the many years, the California Masonic Memorial Temple has played host to a wide range of community events, from symphonies to Star Trek conventions. The building also continues to host private and corporate events, and the garage is used by residents and visitors of Nob Hill and Union Square.
For nearly 65 years, the CMMT has been an integral part of San Francisco’s business and entertainment scenes—as it will into the future.
Patrons gather outside the CMMT in this undated 1960s photo.
Backed by a full mariachi-style band, Angela Aguilar performs at the SF Masonic in March 2022. Photo by Greg Chow/Live Nation.
The San Francisco Symphony performs the first-ever concert held inside the auditorium on April 19, 1958.
James Arthur performs at the SF Masonic in April 2022. Photo by Greg Chow/Live Nation.
A drill team performs during this undated photo of a convention of the American Dental Association.
Rapper Larry June performs at the Masonic in December 2021. Photo by Greg Chow/Live Nation.
A corporate meeting of the General Telephone & Electronics System takes over the auditorium in this undated archival image.
President Barack Obama addressed a large crowd inside the California Masonic Memorial Temple auditorium during a fundraising event in 2012.
A car exits the 500-car CMMT parking garage in this 1958 publicity photo.
Learn MoreBehind the “Endomosaic“