California: Angelus Temple, Los Angeles Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

From 1923 until 1944, the Angelus Temple served as the international headquarters of the renowned evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Both her impressive preaching style and the stunning architecture of the edifice made the temple an instant tourist attraction.

Site Office

Angelus Temple

1100 Glendale Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90026

ph.: (213) 484-1000

fax: (213) 484-1703

The impressive Angelus Temple is both a monument to the United States’ best-known female evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), and a major milestone in contemporary architecture.

An Evangelist

Born near Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, on October 9, 1890, Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy was dramatically converted at age seventeen by a Pentecostal preacher, Robert James Semple. Aimee “shouted and sang and laughed and talked in tongues” and also married Semple. Ordained at Durham’s North Avenue Mission in Chicago in 1909, Aimee left with her husband to evangelize China. Robert Semple died of malaria in Hong Kong in August, 1910. A month later their daughter, Roberta, was born. Ill and depressed, Aimee returned to America.

With the return of her health, Aimee Semple turned to revivalism. Within five years she toured the United States eight times, holding forty revivals in tents, tabernacles, and theaters. In Denver alone she drew twelve thousand auditors per night for a month to the coliseum. Her “old time religion” was joined with the newest technology. She rode in a “gospel automobile,” preached from airplanes (which dropped tracts over the town), and spoke on the radio. A “woman preacher” at a time when few denominations ordained females (women gained the right to vote in 1920), Sister Aimee broke the gender barrier and also the racial barrier by holding integrated services in Key West, Florida. Her busy ministry led to the failure of her second marriage to grocer Harold McPherson. From that union, which lasted from 1919 to 1921, Aimee’s son and successor, Rolf, was born.

A Vision

Shortly after World War I, Sister Aimee settled in Southern California. Responding to a “vision,” she selected a site eight miles from downtown Los Angeles for her Angelus Temple. Located at 1100 Glendale Boulevard at Park Avenue, it stood at the northwest end of famed Echo Park (where McPherson planted the lovely Oriental lotuses). Eleven mules, scrapers, and drivers joined her at the groundbreaking for what would become a very stunning building.

Critics contended it was a copy of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. McPherson maintained it was a “dream.” Architect A. F. Leicht drew up the blueprints. Many were surprised that the building was not square (to match her Foursquare Gospel Church) but circular. The circle drew on primal symbolism for “inclusivity,” “continuity,” and “eternity.” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” was one of Sister Aimee’s favorite songs. The dome reminded one of classical temples such as the Pantheon and the Hagia Sophia and of such national monuments as the Capitol in Washington, D.C. When completed, the Angelus Temple was the largest unsupported dome in North America.

At an accessible location, with an aesthetically pleasing appearance, the temple was honest in the use of contemporary materials. Sister Aimee was persuaded that cement was the building material of the future. It was a stroke of genius to combine a modern medium (concrete) with an ancient symbol (the circle) to create one of America’s greatest churches. It opened on January 1, 1923.

A Ministry

The Angelus Temple was an instant tourist attraction. Daily tours had to be offered from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Four thousand people visited each month. Many more came to worship at the four daily and three Sunday services. Though Sister Aimee never advertised, all fifty-three hundred seats were occupied long before she preached. Powerful music was provided by a massive organ that simulated the tones of forty musical instruments. Massed choirs, a brass band, and an orchestra (with marimba group) completed the ministry of music. The sanctuary was enhanced with a series of stained glass windows surveying the story of Jesus. Under a gigantic American flag was a mural of the Second Coming of Jesus, one of McPherson’s “Four Points,” the Returning King. Displays of discarded canes, crutches, and braces affirmed her doctrine of Jesus as the Healer. Eloquent preaching and reverent use of the ordinances showed Christ as Savior. Many marveled that Communion could be served to fifty-three hundred people at one sitting within fifteen minutes without any “semblance of haste or confusion.” Some eight thousand people came to the altar during the temple’s first eight months of operation. Christ as Baptizer was shown in the Thursday night immersion services and in the presence of “spiritual gifts.”

A Fundamentalist reply to the “institutional church” of liberal Christianity, the temple never closed. “The lights never go out at the Angelus Temple,” insisted Sister Aimee. A prayer tower, opened in 1923, offered intercessions without ceasing. The same year the Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism (LIFE), a Bible school, began, as did the radio station Kall Foursquare Gospel (KFSG), the third-oldest in Los Angeles and the first operated by a church. There was also “children’s church” (with youngsters both attending and leading), a music conservatory, an employment agency, and a commissary that fed and clothed a million people during the Great Depression. The temple grounds also had a publishing house (McPherson wrote eighty hymns and five sacred operas and edited two periodicals), Sister Aimee’s home, and a bookstore with a roof garden. The complex also was the headquarters of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, which had a membership of two million people in 2000.

Conclusion

Sister Aimee’s life was filled with controversy. A third marriage failed. At one time she faced forty-six lawsuits. During the 1920’s, she disappeared for five weeks, allegedly “kidnapped.” In the 1930’s, there was a leadership struggle that pitted McPherson against her mother and daughter. By the 1940’s, Sister Aimee had weathered the storm–and the temple ministry was vital. On September 27, 1944, while in Oakland, California, to dedicate a new church, the famed evangelist died of an accidental overdose of barbiturates. Services were held at the Angelus Temple with burial following in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

Though the founder died, the Angelus Temple’s ministry remained vital and became a fundamental part of the religious community in Southern California, as well as a major tourist attraction.

For Further Information
  • Blumhofer, Edith L. The Assemblies of God: A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1989. Volume 1, To 1941, offers an excellent account of McPherson’s role within the broader Pentecostal movement.
  • Durasoff, Steve. Bright Wind of the Spirit: Pentecostalism Today. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1972. A moving narrative of McPherson’s public ministry.
  • Gebhard, David, and Robert Winter. Architecture in Los Angeles: A Compleat Guide. Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Bodes, 1985. A succinct, illustrated guide to the buildings of Los Angeles. The photographic consultant was Julius Shulman.
  • McLoughlin, William A. “Aimee Semple McPherson.” In Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Edward T. James. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. A concise and complete life of McPherson by a recognized authority on revivalism.
  • Moore, Charles, and Peter Becker. The City Observed: Los Angeles, a Guide to Its Architecture and Landscape. New York: Random House, 1984. Provides an excellent survey of the neighborhood in which the Angelus Temple is located. Photographs by Regula Campbell.
  • Rolle, Andrew. Los Angeles: From Pueblo to City of the Future. San Francisco: Boyd and Fraser Publishing Company, 1981. A brief but helpful introduction to the history of Los Angeles.
  • Weaver, John D. Los Angeles: The Enormous Village, 1781-1981. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1980. Contains a fascinating view of McPherson’s colorful career in Southern California.
  • The WPA Guide to California: The Federal Writers’ Project Guide to 1930’s California. 1939. Reprint. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Provides an outstanding description of the Angelus Temple during the Great Depression. This edition includes a new introduction by Gwendolyn Wright.
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