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Los Angeles

Working to Revive a Revival Church

Religion: Angelus Temple renovation is done, and pastor has high hopes for future.

July 14, 2002|GEORGE RAMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The house that Pentecostal revivalist Aimee Semple McPherson built will reopen its main auditorium today after a $7-million renovation to modernize the aging, historic facility. And to hear church officials tell it, she would be happy at how her Angelus Temple has been improved.

"I think she would be excited by all this," said pastor Matthew Barnett, who took over stewardship of the landmark Echo Park church in October.

The refurbished auditorium will be formally opened at a 10 a.m. service, which officials say will herald a new day for the church, a fixture on the Los Angeles landscape since it was founded in 1923.

Among the improvements are new seats for most of the 3,200-seat auditorium, although the original wooden seats remain in the upper level. The renovation also includes acoustical tile hanging from the temple's dome to improve the sound; a new audiovisual system that can accommodate theatrical events and concerts; and air-conditioning.

Church officials said that key elements of the rehabilitation are the preservation of the historic dome, the stained-glass windows and a 40-foot mural of Jesus Christ.

Within a few months, they said, the pipe organ, which was removed, will be restored for use at services.

The church's condition and the dwindling number of congregants have brought controversy in recent years.

Almost four years ago, Ed and Ivy Stanton came from Portland, Ore., to become Angelus Temple's new pastors. They intended to turn the struggling church around, with a contemporary approach to attract younger followers. They also wanted to remodel the church, which had been named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

They closed the auditorium and moved most of the services to a hotel in Pasadena. Some services were held in an adjacent 1,000-seat room in the church's old Bible college.

The couple planned to build a flat ceiling to cover the temple's dome and obscure the mural, and to rip out the old organ. Longtime followers called the proposals an insult to McPherson's legacy.

A divorcee from Canada, McPherson was one of the early 20th century's most successful evangelists. She preached dramatically, often using Hollywood stage props and movie-star flamboyance to draw thousands to her temple at Glendale Boulevard and Park Avenue, across the street from Echo Park Lake.

During the Depression, she was seen by many as a beacon of hope in an otherwise cruel and desperate world.

In October, the Stantons stepped down as pastors and were replaced by Barnett, an energetic 28-year-old who had founded the Los Angeles International Center, also known as the Dream Center. That church operates a treatment center for drug addicts, provides a home for ex-convicts and works with children threatened by street gangs.

The center, at the old Queen of Angels Hospital site off the Hollywood Freeway in Echo Park, has impressed many in religious circles with its growth.

The renovations at Angelus started shortly after Barnett's arrival. Barnett and others say the growth of the Dream Center--which merged with Angelus Temple when Barnett was appointed to Angelus--could renew interest in the Foursquare denomination and its flagship facility.

"I feel that Angelus Temple can be symbolic of bringing communities together," he said. "It can bring the sense that something big is going on there. The inner city deserves the very best."

By coincidence, the reopening of the temple auditorium today will coincide with the annual Lotus Festival at Echo Park Lake, which marks the community's biggest weekend of the year.

Associate Pastor Aaron Jayne said parking may be at a premium as crowds descend on Echo Park. "The festival folks are letting us use some of their parking," Jayne said.

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