Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson commissioned the 4,400-square-foot moorish revival house in Lake Elsinore, complete with escape routes in case of unwanted media attention.
By the late 1920s, evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson needed some breathing room. The Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which had evolved into wildly popular religious theater during her meteoric rise as its leader, was starting to splinter as the demands by her massive following and the number of reporters tracking her every move increased.
Clevelin Realty Corp. had purchased land in Lake Elsinore’s Country Club Heights District and was marketing the area as a resort destination for the rich and famous. Give some land to McPherson, they figured, and more celebrities would follow.
McPherson accepted the offer and in 1929 commissioned architect Edwin Bickman to design a 4,400-square-foot Moorish Revival castle on the hills above the lake’s northeastern shore. Foursquare International, the modern incarnation of McPherson’s Foursquare Gospel, purchased the property in 2005 and got Sister Aimee’s castle, as the locals call it, back into shape after years of neglect. Aimee’s prayer tower sits above the front door but was off limits to our tour:(
Prior to being saved by the church, the property was used for institutional use, becoming at times a school and later a rest home. A reclusive lady lived there for many years, and when she died, the squatters moved in. Fortunately everything worked out and this little jewel was able to survive.
Recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land, Aimee chose to build a sprawling residence inspired by the Moorish architecture that had thrilled her soul–but carefully calibrated to serve as a machine for living for her very unusual Southern California family.
Tile is everywhere in Aimee’s Castle, much of it in the geometric Moorish style.
From the garage, Aimee mounted steep steps to enter an astonishing fantasia: a rough-hewn concrete ascending tunnel, inspired by the Via Dolorosa, the path of Christ’s journey through ancient Jerusalem.
But instead of climbing to Golgotha to be crucified, Aimee rose up to the top of the mountain, where she was perfectly safe.
Stained glass within the tunnel.
Of course Aimee’s high celebrity status required a massive gate and fence to be built around the entire property.
Inside crescent on the wall of Aimee’s master bath.
Members from the Foursquare Gospel church now occasionally offer tours to the general public.
At one end of the great room is a neat little atrium, with a deep central fountain, tiled all around. (The murals are new, restorations suggestive of what was there before.)
The colors are amazing.
On opposite sides of the atrium, shuttered windows lead into two bedrooms: Sister Aimee’s room on the lake side, and her childrens’ room on the hill side. This ingenious structure allowed mother and child to call to each other across the open air, while each retaining their privacy.
The ceiling of the great room had been painted over with white paint until the church restored it back to its original state.
The great room has large arched French doors that run along both sides providing views of the courtyard at the front of the house and the pool and lake in the back.
At the other end of the great room, down a few steps, is the square jewel box dining room with its soaring, mirrored ceiling and mock-fabric wall treatments.
Aimee’s master bathroom is covered with murals from floor-to-ceiling.
Lake Elsinore didn’t become the exclusive retreat the developers had hoped for. The stock market crashed, and the depression came, and then the lake itself dried up for a time. After a few years, Sister Aimee sold her Castle and used the proceeds to feed the people of Los Angeles.
Oh Sister Aimee, what a life you had. God bless you. Amen.