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Los Angeles, California

Angelus Temple

Church and home-museum of a 1920s female revivalist preacher with a very sordid past. 

Apart from Dodger Stadium, Angelus Temple, home of the Four Square Gospel Church, is Echo Park’s most formidable structure.

Completed in 1925 it is a colossal house of worship crowned with a silver-painted dome. Nestled up to the great building is the parsonage home of the Foursquare Gospel movement’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson. Born in 1890 McPherson was an evangelist and revivalist preacher who spoke in tongues, cast out demons, and toured the southern United States in her “Gospel Car” which read “Jesus is coming soon - get ready.”

A very independent woman for the time, she traveled on her own, used radio, movies and stage acts to deliver her religious message. In 1918 her husband filed for divorce, citing “abandonment.” This, of course, didn’t slow her down at all, or have much of an impact on her following. McPherson was known to base her sermons around events that took place in her life and then acted them out on Sunday evening, often with elaborate background sets for added drama.

Until fairly recently, the parsonage was a gutted shell locked behind a wrought-iron fence, but recently it’s been restored and now, behind its rose bushes, it is a time warp to a long-vanished Los Angeles. Built as a kind of miniature version of the temple, the parsonage next door has a classical, cylindrical design. Inside, many of its charismatic tenants recovered belongings, including vintage clothing and kitchen appliances, are arranged as though McPherson had just stepped out.

A little top-heavy on framed letters and testimonials, a silent narrative emerges from the walls of photographs, and a short documentary loop and videotaped puppet-theater biography steer us toward McPherson’s more heroic work of feeding the hungry and healing the sick. All of which conveniently skirts the details of her rather scandalous life.

Aimee Semple McPherson allegedly had an extramarital relationship and then faked her own death, reconsidered, and faked a kidnapping instead.

After disappearing while swimming on a beach, McPherson was believed to be dead, though oddly a close male friend of hers also disappeared at the same time. But about a month after her disappearance McPherson stumbled out of the desert in a Mexican town claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged and tortured. However, little of her story or the surrounding evidence made sense. Brought to trial a grand jury could neither prove that a kidnapping occurred, nor that she had faked it.

Later after, losing her church, and becoming estranged from her daughter, McPherson suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1944 Aimee Semple McPherson died from an accidental overdose of barbiturates.

Today, Angelus Temple, the church she started, and her small parsonage house remain, an odd piece of L.A. history in the middle of Echo Park.