Saturday, July 26, 2014

Photo Essay: Angelus Temple, A Theater for the Evangelized

If you've visited Echo Park Lake or even just driven through Echo Park...


Photo from USC Digital Library

...you've noticed this big building that curves along the corner of Glendale Avenue at Park Avenue, with the domed roof.



The radio towers may be gone, but Angelus Temple is unmistakable.



Built by Aimee Semple McPherson, one of LA's most famous and popular residents, it is the home of the Foursquare Church...



...and currently hosts The Church of the Dream Center.



It is a temple, with its stained glass windows and multiple services throughout the week...



...but it is also a theater...



...once decorated with a clouded blue sky mural painted ceiling...



...and dozens of backdrops...



...that set the stage for Sister Aimee's illustrated sermons...



...replete with props, actors, and sound effects, to drive her message home.



An evangelical minister and groundbreaking female pastor...



...Sister Aimee did not preach of fire and brimstone, but rather composed operas and recounted anecdotal stories from her own life to show the compassion of Jesus.



Angelus Temple once drew as many as 5000 attendees to its services, performances, and healing ceremonies, many of whom were sick, blind, crippled, or otherwise despondent.



People who listened to Sister Aimee's sermons on the radio also lined up to see her in person...



...despite scandal, tragedy, and her mysterious disappearance.



Across a breezeway...



...down in the basement...



...there is an archive of materials from Sister Aimee's past...



...including relics from the church...



...like old seats...



...and musical instruments...



...as well as various documentation...



...and clippings...



...from Sister Aimee's life and work...



...and the media coverage that followed.



Angelus Temple also houses a neighboring Hispanic temple...



...for Spanish-language services...



...and worship...



...all surrounding the principles of the Four Square Gospel.

Aimee believed that theatricality – including use of props – steeped in the telling of real life events was the best way to convey the Good Word to her followers, and Angelus Temple provided the perfect setting for that. In addition to her operas and sermons, it also hosted a school, a commissary to feed the needy during the Great Depression, and Aimee's own home, right next door.

Regardless of what you believe, Aimee established a religious spectacle that was not to be missed during her lifetime, and set a precedent for a style of evangelism that would carry on her legacy for years to come.

Next I guess I'll have to sit through a service there, to get the full experience.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: The Home of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, Evangelist and Kidnapee
Photo Essay: The Art Deco Theater Inside Academy Cathedral, Inglewood

Friday, July 25, 2014

Photo Essay: The Home of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, Evangelist and Kidnapee

LA always seems to attract the most interesting characters.

They come here from all over the country – really, all over the world – to make their dreams come true, whatever dreams those may be.

After suffering the tragic loss of her husband to malaria while on a mission in China, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson managed to scrape up enough money to make it back home to her mother in Canada, but somehow – a single mother, destitute – managed to find her way to LA (God's calling).

Once here, she founded the Foursquare Church, and built the Angelus Temple to house it. Already the first woman ever to preach over broadcast radio, she also founded radio station KFSG, named after the Four Square Gospel, the major points of which are:
  1. Jesus is the Savior (represented by a Man or a red cross)
  2. Jesus is the Healer (represented by a lion or a yellow dove)
  3. Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit (represented by an ox, or a blue chalice)
  4. Jesus is the Soon-Coming King (represented by an eagle, or a purple crown)
An active social minister during the Great Depression, Sister Aimee also meant to build a school, but the community needs proved too great, and the school that was built wasn't nearly large enough to accommodate. So, Aimee moved the students into the main temple (which opened in 1923, photos forthcoming), and turned the school into a parsonage, making it her home.



The parsonage now operates as The Foursquare Heritage Center...



...a museum devoted to the life and ministry of their premiere pastor, a show woman who drew thousands to her church, crowds larger than any Broadway show or movie, at the time more than PT Barnum or Harry Houdini.



Sister Aimee was known for her beauty (and her ever-changing hair color and styles)...



...as well as for the sound of her voice...



...and the tambourine that she carried onstage.



Her sermons were large-scale theatrical productions, often with props and actors and elaborately painted backdrops.



She would evangelize from behind a wooden pulpit, whose front-facing side was carved with the words, "Not by might nor by power, But by My Spirit, Saith the Lord."



The museum houses an original player piano which you can also play...



...though unfortunately the rolls of music that it would have played during Aimee's time have been lost.



The walls are covered in historical photographs, memorabilia and promotional ephemera from Fourquare's heyday...



...and the parsonage retains some original (and later-era vintage) elements, like wooden doors with small painted insets...



...and telephone system.



There's even a token on the bannister to mark the era of trains clattering through Echo Park – when would-be passengers who were too poor to pay for their own fare...



...could just walk into the door of Sister Aimee's home and grab a token for free.



Upstairs, past more memorabilia...



...and stained glass windows...



...you feel an even stronger presence of Sister Aimee in your midst...



...peeking into her black-and-gold bathroom...



...which is in pristine condition...



...with its incredible tile and stained glass window.



On the way to Aimee's bedroom, an entire curved hallway is devoted to the story of her infamous kidnapping...



...which was actually the third kidnapping she'd survived (indicating what a prominent and controversial figure she actually was).



When she was kidnapped and held for ransom the final time, she was gone for weeks and suspected to have drowned during one of her regular ocean swims. Others have speculated that she ran away with a lover and then changed her mind and came back.



Regardless of what really happened, Aimee did return, but the episode took its toll on her.



She suffered multiple failed relationships and marriages, a fractured skull, a bacterial infection in her intestinal tract, and a ruptured kidney tube, exacerbated by taking sleeping pills. She died in her bed at age 53 in 1944, scandalized by rumors of suicide and overdose.



The rest of the house shows a bit of slice of life from the 1920s through the 1940s...



...with a restored basement used primarily for storage...



...and utilities and security...



...though an exposed crawlspace captures the imagination of just what might lie under the parsonage (though it reportedly has no foundation).



Outside the back door...



...a delightful courtyard leads to an entrance to the temple...



...with Spanish-tiled archways...



...and lots of tile accents.



Visitors were once welcome here, and would often enter the parsonage from the back...



...especially with Sister Aimee's open door policy...



...which meant that her home was never closed and locked – not even at night – in case someone needed food or just a place to go.



Stay tuned for an exploration of Angelus Temple, home of the Foursquare Church.