February 08, 2015

Photo Essay: Aimee's Castle on the Lake

Early in the days of Lake Elsinore – somewhere north of Temecula and south of Corona, on the east side of the Cleveland National Forest – developers felt they needed to woo a celebrity with an offer of free land. Once one came to live out there, more would flock in kind, establishing an elite community.

And so who was the most famous person in Hollywood in 1929?

Not Charlie Chaplin. Not Mary Pickford or Douglas Fairbanks.

It was Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist who took LA by storm when she founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel at Angelus Temple.

Aimee was so famous that she was mobbed all of the time, followed relentlessly by the paparazzi, and plastered all over the front pages of all the tabloids – akin to, say, Princess Diana.

Although she did live in the parsonage next to Angelus Temple, she needed a quiet place to pray, and accepted the developers' offer.

Having just come back from the Holy Land, she commissioned an estate to be built in Moorish Revival style, with fake minarets and other details reminiscent of the Islamic Arts.

At the time, there wasn't much else out there, but her solitude was short-lived: worshippers and the media soon followed her there, often bestowing her with gifts... the tile spout still in place at the front fountain, called "The Dolphin" (though it's not a dolphin) – one of only four known in existence.

Trying to keep a low profile, Aimee had a secret tunnel entrance constructed, so she could enter the house from the garage without being spotted.

And although she was quite fenced in...

...Aimee couldn't keep her low profile for long...

...before she'd come out on the roof and start preaching, for whomever was there already, or whomever arrived. She took every opportunity to spread the word.

Visiting her home – dubbed "Aimee's Castle," though she would've never called it that – provides an intimate glimpse into her private life, right down to the secret tiled sauna hiding behind a trap door.

And despite devoting herself to a life of service, she had a grand sense of style...

...the expression of which has been preserved and restored in many areas of the castle, which is now run by The Rock in Lake Elsinore, a FourSquare church.

Some of the items on display were part of her personal collection, like the crystal glassware that was gifted to her...

...and her carved mirror in the dining room (whose walls will soon be returned to their original black color).

There are painted murals everywhere, and ornate ceilings...

...some of which had once been painted over by any number of castle residents since Aimee moved out. Luckily they've been returned to their original splendor.

The Moorish theme continues inside, with a wide variety of colored tiles... atrium that looks like a tiny, Art Deco mosque courtyard (once open-air, now outfitted with a skylight)...

...and pointed archways.

The Art Deco touches can also be witnessed in elaborately decorated bathrooms, each with its own theme...

...expressed in colorful murals...

...and, of course, more tile.

The castle now serves as somewhat of a shrine to Sister Aimee, who seems to smile at visitors from every angle...

...but it's also a reminder of the resort-to-be that never was.

Lake Elsinore never became an exclusive retreat – yet another California dream deferred, deterred by the stock market crash and Great Depression.

The lake even dried up at one point.

After Aimee sold the castle in 1939 (and used the proceeds to feed hungry Angelenos), the castle was treated gingerly by subsequent residents, including a group of squatters who occupied it when it was technically supposed to be vacant.

Aimee Semple McPherson led such a crazy life, it seems appropriate that her home would be somewhat eccentric and splashy – influencing Hollywood set designers, setting trends, and making headlines.

Indeed, with the creation of her castle, Sister Aimee did it again. She left behind a fabulous piece of architecture, and a peaceful place for contemplation, which the rest of us can now enjoy.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Angelus Temple, A Theater for the Evangelized
Photo Essay: The Home of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, Evangelist and Kidnapee

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