The Angelus Temple
On January 1, 1923, at 2:15 p.m., Aimee Semple McPherson opened the 5,300 seat Angelus Temple to the public. Thousands of people streamed into the domed concrete building across from Los Angeles' Echo Park. The first day of services was the culmination of two years of planning, fund raising and construction. McPherson described it as "the day when the seemingly impossible became possible, the glorious dream a living fact and the wondrous vision a concrete reality."
"You would come in, be seated in the auditorium, and the Silver Band would be playing band music. And then she would come down the ramp... onto the platform with her bouquet of roses and go immediately to the pulpit and the microphone, the old-fashioned big microphone, and greet people..." — Dorothy Jean Furlong
Temple visitors sat beneath the expansive dome, painted a sky blue with fluffy clouds. Colorful stained glass windows flanked the stage. Music resonated from a Kimball pipe organ. In addition to the services conducted in the main area of the temple, McPherson held smaller, less structured prayer services in other rooms. The main temple area, with its stage, theater-like seating and large capacity, was perfect for the culminating Sunday event, the illustrated sermon.
I was the youngest member of the stage group. And I was up on what they call the fly, rolling up and down backdrops. And during the sermon when I wasn't busy working the scenery, I donned a robe and a pair of sandals and became part of the mob that was characteristic of the actors... There was no limit to her themes, so you never knew what the illustration would be... these illustrations were out of this world, really. Wendell St. Clair
McPherson's Sunday night services combined religious fervor with theatrical spectacle. Her illustrated sermons grew elaborate, incorporating moving sets, costume changes, live animals, and sound and light effects. A Harper's Monthly reporter described the proceedings: "Heaven and Hell, sinner and saint, Satan, the fleshpots of Egypt, angels of Paradise and temptations of a bejazzed World are made visual by actors, costumes, and theatrical tricks of any and every sort.
Sunday sermons became a hot ticket and thousands lined up in hopes of gaining entrance into the temple. The city arranged for extra police and trolley cars on the nights McPherson debuted a new illustrated sermon.
"When she finished a sermon then she would have what we call an altar call where she would ask for people who wanted to be born again come to the Lord Jesus, come forward. Well you'd just have to watch that to see it happen, but they would come from every corner of this building, down the ramp, down the steps to the first floor. There were three or four there, there would be 30, 40, 50 people come, sometimes more. She would then personally minister to them, pray with them, deal with them, help them however she could." — Dorothy Jean Furlong
McPherson had achieved notoriety for her healing services during the years that she held tent meetings across the country. Crowds grew as accounts of her miraculous abilities spread, forcing her to relocate many planned services to outdoor venues in order to accommodate the growing crowds.
McPherson continued this practice at Angelus Temple, closing out her sermons by calling forth listeners to be saved by Jesus. Dozens of people would surge to the altar, asking Sister Aimee to remedy their ailments. She touched their afflictions, anointed them with oil and spoke with them. These healing services could go on for hours and McPherson often appeared physically drained by them.
"I decided I wanted to move down to the great Kimball pipe organ in the main auditorium and I wanted to have a broadcast singing Gospel songs with the organ accompaniment. And I was in the midst of my program, and I saw the little light on the phone flashing, flashing. I picked up the phone and all I heard was, "Pep it up! Pep it up, pep it up!" I was so humiliated because there was no mistaking the voice... Aimee Semple McPherson." — Wendell St. Clair
By the mid-1920s, the new technology of radio was beginning to catch on with consumers. Soon after opening Angelus Temple, McPherson asked local radio experts how to start her own religious station. They told McPherson she could start broadcasting for less than $25,000 — and that she could reach over 200,000 radio owners within a hundred miles of Los Angeles. On February 6, 1924, McPherson launched KFSG (Kall Four-Square Gospel) from within Angelus Temple.
Two lighted radio towers atop the temple marked a new era in delivering Sister Aimee's preaching. Listeners hundreds of miles away tuned in to hear live sermons, midnight organ recitals, children's programs and more.