ALTADENA — A home in an old Altadena neighborhood has become a shrine of sorts for hundreds of people who have visited since Aug. 12 to gaze at what they are convinced is "a sign from God."
The daily flow of pilgrims, which starts at at 8 p.m. and ends in the early morning, began after 8-year-old Deidra Bonner spotted a luminous cross in a window in the bathroom of her grandparents' home.
"I don't know why God chose our little old place," said Essie L. Pierce. "And people ask, 'Why the bathroom?' I just say the Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform."
As news of the "vision" has spread, long lines form each night outside the home of P.G. and Essie Pierce at 2096 Marengo Ave.
Hundreds Come to See
On a moonlit night earlier this week, cars were parked for blocks around as hundreds of people of all ages and cultures poured in and out of the two-story home.
Drawn by the crowds, dozens of youngsters on bikes and skateboards whirled around the intersection of Marengo Avenue and Woodbury Road.
"There's been a lot of commotion, but it hasn't been disruptive," said Helena Siler as she watched the crowd of viewers from her house next door.
"It's like a gala every night," she said. "I have seen lame people coming, and once there was a woman on crutches, and I could see she was totally moved by the experience."
"All we've noticed is more foot and vehicle traffic," said sheriff's Deputy Roy McLaurin, who works in the area regularly. He added that there have been no law enforcement problems.
Visitors, most of whom said they live in the Altadena and Pasadena area, walk through four rooms and a narrow hallway into a tiny lavatory with a new translucent glass window.
The unmistakable shape of a Byzantine cross, enveloped in a glowing diamond pattern, can be seen in the glass.
It appears at dusk and begins diminishing with the dawn, changing position slightly and fading as the sun rises, say Pierce family members who have kept vigil at all hours.
The excitement began when Deidra reported the first sighting of the cross on her grandmother's 57th birthday.
The Pierces said that the window glass, which is etched with a fine criss-crossing of lines that resembles a screen, was installed in June to replace a cracked pane.
The window faces the east and looks onto a rear cottage, where a light over the front door shines directly into the Pierces' bathroom window.
Although the etching on the glass and the light from the cottage might form a pattern, the Pierces said that would not explain the cross's elaborate design or its sudden appearance. The cross remains faintly visible during the day.
After checking possible sources and finding no explanation, they said they came to believe it was a revelation from God. Then they told their friends about it.
Visitors, who are not charged admission, gaze briefly and then move quietly back through the house. Some get right back into the line that stretches down Marengo Avenue, starting all over. Others make frequent pilgrimages, bringing their families, friends and neighbors.
While some see God's hand in the formation of the cross, others are not so sure.
"I believe it is the glory of God," said Gladys Clark. "I don't think you could get that glow any other way."
Betty Hayes agreed.
"I could hardly leave that window. I'm coming to see it as long as it's here. I've been in this home for years, and there's been nothing like this."
"I'm a Baptist, and I believe," said neighbor Donell Barrett.
But, said Siler, the next-door neighbor, "I'm logical, and anything illogical goes right over my head. Sure, it could be anything, and it would be very nice if it was a sign from God."
Said another viewer, who would not give his name, "We had something like this in our window, and I didn't think anything about it."
There is even some uncertainty among those who live in the house.
'Don't Have an Opinion'
"It's exciting, but I don't have an opinion," said Ron Woods, Essie Pierce's son by a previous marriage.
"If believing in it helps people, I guess that's good. With people coming at 3 in the morning, I haven't had a good night's sleep in a week."
Essie Pierce says she is not disturbed by the hundreds of people who have been marching through her home day and night, leaving little time for family meals or privacy.
"I'm not much for sleeping anyway. And friends help out," she said.
'Want Everyone to Come'
"We really want everyone to come," she said. "I think it's a sign that the Lord is wanting people to know he is alive and he can do anything."
Her husband, who said he is an assistant to the pastor at Pasadena's Faith Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, said, "God loves the world, and he's making a sign."
Religious visions have been reported elsewhere in Southern California in recent years.
Earlier this month, crosses appeared in the windows of two homes in Wilmington, causing excitement similar to that in Altadena.
Four years ago, 8,000 people were drawn to the site of a vision in Santa Fe Springs. But it turned out that the image of a crucified Christ on a garage door was caused by street lights, shadows of brush and a "For Sale" sign standing in the yard.
Harry Senn, a professor of French and folklore at Pitzer College in Claremont, said that the attention given to such visions and religious symbols is an indication that "people obviously have a need to believe in the reality of the existence of spiritual forces and Providence."
Senn said that although "it's hard to get worked up about some of these experiences," their effect on people is what counts.
"If it's cause for greater ignorance, that is not good, he said. "But if it leads people to be nicer to people, that would be good."
"Just look at how it affects people," Pierce said as people crowded into his living room. "Praise the Lord. Just look at all this."