The Angelus Temple, located on Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles, California is historically significant as the base of operations for Aimee Semple McPherson, a pioneer in the field of radio evangelism. McPherson set a number of important precedents for women in religion in the early part of the 20th century. She was the first woman to receive an FCC radio license and she was a pioneer religious broadcaster. In her sermons on radio KSFG and her preaching at the Angelus Temple, McPherson was the first to incorporate Hollywood and vaudeville style entertainment techniques. In addition, she mobilized an extensive social ministry from her headquarters at the Angelus Temple. She provided a social and educational center for thousands of Midwestern migrants. During the Great Depression she provided hot meals for thousands of hungry people. In the context of the total social and intellectual history of the United States, much credit should be given to this flamboyant, “celebrated and controversial” woman. By widening the appeal of pentecostalism to millions more Americans, McPherson “marked ^turning point in the history of the Pentecostal movement in the United States.” *• According to the National Park Service Thematic Framework, the Angelus Temple falls under theme XXX. American Ways of Life.

Aimee Kennedy Semple McPherson was born in 1890 and raised in rural Ingersoll, Canada. After an early marriage to Robert Semple she traveled to China as a Pentecostal missionary. In 1909, a year after her arrival in China, Robert Semple died and Aimee came to New York. Shortly thereafter she married Harold McPherson and moved to Providence, Rhode Island. The McPherson’s soon began to conduct independent, itinerant evangelistic campaigns throughout the eastern seaboard of the country, but their marriage lasted only a brief time. In 1916 Aimee McPherson then continued the ministry that had begun with only a tent and an old car. During this period she did not have any permanent residence.

Finally in 1918 Aimee Semple McPherson and her two children settled in Los Angeles, California. Within a few months of her arrival she moved into a bungalow on Orange Grove Drive. Later, when the Foursquare Gospel Church was established, she moved into a parsonage near the Angelus Temple, which remained her primary residence until 1944. The property that is most closely associated with McPherson is the Angelus Temple at 1100 Glendale Boulevard. Completed and paid for only three years after her arrival in California, the Angelus Temple was the base of all of her considerable social, humanitarian and religious activities. From the Angelus Temple millions of people received food and other humanitarian relief in the midst of the Great Depression. It is the place where tens of thousands of people heard and saw her preach. Therefore it is the most appropriate site for designation. 

Aimee Kennedy Semple McPherson was born to deeply religious parents. Aimee’s mother was a dedicated member of the Salvation Army; her father was a Methodist choir leader. Aimee’s more aggressive mother took charge of her religious upbringing and dedicated Aimee to God’s service in the Salvation Army. At an early age, she developed her self-assurance in public by singing, praying and reciting scripture every Sunday in the Salvation Army services. As the only Salvationist in her public school, the other children were quick to taunt her. Turning enemies into friends, Aimee, with a makeshift drum, soon had them parading around the school yard behind her, Salvation Army style.

Later in high school Aimee was confronted with scientific theories of evolution and began to doubt her faith as she had learned it. After an unsettling period of wonder and searching she began attending a local Pentecostal church whose emphasis on emotional experience attracted her. This church was a part of a religious movement that began in the first decade of the twentieth century and was characterized by revivalistic practices and charismatic leaders.

Shortly after her conversion, Aimee fell in love with and married a young Pentecostal minister, Robert Semple. Aimee Semple began touring the U.S. and Canada with her husband who held revival services. During this time she thoroughly learned Pentecostal doctrines, the practice of faith healing, and speaking and interpreting the gift of tongues. Eventually the couple felt called to go to China as missionaries. Shortly after their arrival in China they both fell ill and Robert Semple died.

After the birth of her first child one month after her husband’s death, Aimee Semple left China to meet her mother in New York. The next six years of her life were ones of despair and “backsliding.” Marrying Harold McPherson, she attempted to start over. Being the wife of a grocer in Providence, Rhode Island, however, did not fulfill her. During a period of prolonged illness she focused on the meaning of religion in her life. In 1916, leaving her husband, and with little more than her faith, she set out on her own cross country revival tour. Between 1916 and 1923 she spent most of her time preaching throughout the country.

In 1918 Aimee Semple McPherson established a base of operations in Los Angeles, California. From 1918 to 1923 she continued to tour the country, but now she worked to raise money for the Angelus Temple project in California. By 1923 her revival ministry had built and paid for the Angelus Temple at 1100 Glendale Boulevard. The Angelus Temple, half church and half theater, came to be the center of her revival, healing and benevolent ministries. After the Angelus Temple’s completion Aimee McPherson spent much of her time in California, but frequently found time to conduct traveling crusades. Her crusades came to rival those held by Billy Sunday and the more recent Billy Graham. On one 150-day tour it is estimated that she traveled 15,000 miles and delivered 336 sermons to audiences totaling more than two million people, and reached millions more over 45 radio stations.

Aimee Semple McPherson’s career peaked during “the great fundamentalist-modernist schism in Protestantism which split every denomination into violently partisan wings. McPherson fell squarely into the fundamentalist camp. She participated in the transformation of American Christianity, calling the faithful to abandon the old denominations that she believed had become tainted with Darwinian Modernism. 

In Aimee McPherson’s battle for the Gospel she reached out to anyone who would listen. In Winnipeg she prayed with prostitutes. In Florida she held special crusades for blacks because “the dear colored people did not feel free to attend the white meetings.” While in Oakland, California she preached to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Angelus Temple, her base of operations after 1918, became much more than an ordinary church. It became a focal point of social, charitable, and religious functions. Due to heavy immigration, Los Angeles had gained a reputation as “onehundred midwest towns laid end-to-end. In the land of the second chance, McPherson found a place for one and all in the ministries of the Angelus Temple. As social historian William McLoughlin said: 

[McPherson] organized committees which sent men and women out all over the state to pray and sing and bear gifts to the needy in hospitals, poor houses, rest homes, orphanages, jails, houses of correction, and slum sections of the cities. She utilized all available talent in her choirs, quartets, glee clubs, orchestra, brass bands (with silver instruments), scenic designers, and dramatic artists for her dramatized sermons and religious operas. She bad a free employment bureau, a Lonely Club and a parole committee. . . .’

Another major facet of Aimee Semple McPherson’s social ministry was the commissary. Even before the Great Depression, she directed members to bring some item to stock the shelves every week. The Angelus Temple staff freely distributed items to anyone in need. When the Great Depression hit, the Angelus Temple expanded its services and provided over 1,500,000 meals to those in need. 

McPherson’s gospel differed from several of the major components of the social Gospel which favored liberal political reform. She believed and fervently preached (sometimes as much as five times a day) an evangelical gospel of the need for spiritual repentance and personal reform. Yet she did not attempt to scare her audience. She did not dwell on punishment, but promoted a positive thinking approach to theology and life. Though often she preached against the Jazz Age, she pioneered the use of vaudeville and Hollywood theatrics to attract and hold the attention of her audience. These attention getters, however, were intended to illustrate the sermon. When McPherson dressed as a policewoman and rode a motorcycle onto the stage she preached on the subject “Stop! You are breaking God’s law!” As her career progressed she put less emphasis on speaking in tongues and faith healing that had been responsible for much of her early success. Instead McPherson worked for respectability through less boisterous services and more attention to soul winning.

Aimee Semple McPherson’s movement, however, was much more than a cult of personality. She summarized her doctrines into four major points conveniently known as the “Foursquare Gospel” and, though they did not differ very much from a traditional pietistic faith, she published them in a book of the same name. In 1926 she established a Bible College, “Lighthouse of Foursquare Evangelism” to train ministers, missionaries and evangelists. By 1944 there were more than 3,000 graduates. Many of these graduates, both men and women, became ministers in Foursquare Gospel Churches around the country or missionaries around the world. Presently the denomination continues and “has grown steadily in size, wealth and respectability until today it ranks as one of the three or four most distinguished branches of “the Pentecostal or Holiness churches.”

Today the Foursquare Gospel denomination is still growing with more than 1,440 in the United States and Canada and over 21,000 churches worldwide. There are currently over 1.5 million members in 70 countries across the globe. Aimee Semple McPherson pioneered the use of radio. Many of her techniques are still employed by modern evangelists. Even after her death, Aimee McPherson’s message continues to go out over numerous radio and television stations.

Aimee Semple Mcpherson helped keep alive the pietistic tradition, and breathed the life of Pentecostal ism into it. Not only is the Foursquare Gospel denomination still in existence, but it has served as a model for many modern Pentecostal evangelists, many of whom also maintain similar social and humanitarian aid ministries. Despite the colorful nature of her ministry she was genuinely motivated by a desire to serve God. Over the course of her career she assisted millions of the immigrants that flooded the region. Her aid was more than just material, though there was much of that; she also helped immigrants build community structures in their new home. Her work significantly influenced the unique California cultural tradition. In addition, her work is an important contribution to the American tradition of charity through self-help and positive thinking. Though she was sometimes extravagant and flamboyant, her ministry was never racked by financial scandal. Aimee Semple McPherson proclaimed herself to be “everybody’s sister” and truly she was a woman of the people.