Early CV’s Aum Temple of Universal Truth
California has always been a place where alternative religions could take root and flourish. By alternative, I mean outside of the standard Christian faith of Protestant and Catholic. Our valley has been home to three such religious movements: the Ananda Ashrama at the top of Pennsylvania Avenue, founded here in the early ’20s and still flourishing today; the New Life Foundation located at the top of La Crescenta Avenue briefly in the ’40s; and the Aum Temple of Universal Truth, which was on Foothill Boulevard from the ’teens into the ’50s.
The Aum Temple had its roots in an Indian mystic, Baba Premanand Bharati, who established a temple in Los Angeles at the turn of the century. He returned to India in 1909 and his followers here formed several branch religions based on his teachings.
One of the many touched by the teachings of Bharati was a practicing LA “metaphysician” (basically a mystical healer), Dr. Elizabeth Delvine King. In 1907, she received a revelation from the “voice of the infinite” to form a ministry. In the next few years she worked towards this goal, writing five books on metaphysics that formed the base philosophy of her new church. Some of the titles include “Aum, The Cosmic Silence,” “Sayings of Jehovah” and “The Flashlights of Truth.” Followers signed on quickly and she soon established a church in Los Angeles. During this period, Dr. King had a “day job” as the manager of the La Crescenta Hotel, a high-class resort hotel at the corner of Foothill and Rosemont. It makes sense that much of her writing and the formation of her ministry was done there and that her new religion, then called “Church of Truth Universal – Aum” must have had its roots there.
And what was “aum?” According to Dr. King, aum was God’s name for himself, and that repetition of his name (similar to the “om” chant) tunes one to the vibration of God’s spirit. Followers practiced Bhakti yoga, which was one of the disciplines brought to the U.S. by Baba Bharati. Healing was also a central practice of the aum temple. There was a Christian base to their philosophy as well. They believed that Jesus Christ was the active head of the Great White Brotherhood, a group of ascended spiritual beings who transmitted their spiritual wisdom to earth. Devotees believed that entrance to heaven could only be achieved by spiritual cleansing through meditation and renunciation of carnal desires.
Dr. King’s church, renamed the Aum Temple of Universal Truth, was well established in the late ’20s at its downtown LA location. In 1929, they began construction on a new center – a temple and ashram – in the new community of Highway Highlands at 3612 Foothill Blvd. in the Crescenta Valley. Soon after the establishment of this temple in 1931, Dr. King died and was succeeded by a Dr. Miller, who led the temple until 1940 when Nina Brunier became the head of the order. Notoriety visited the temple in 1933 when an obviously very troubled female follower drowned her 6-year-old daughter in her bathtub, believing she was saving her from eternal damnation. She attempted and failed suicide afterward, and after her arrest kept ranting about “aum” and “the Aum Center.”
Nonetheless, the temple soldiered on at its location on Foothill Boulevard. Sadly we have no photos of the buildings. In 1956, the Aum Temple sold the Foothill property and moved out to the Mojave Desert, eventually establishing a new sanctuary and retreat complex in Newberry Springs. Here they became a self-contained community of disciples, raising their own food. They thrived through the 1970s, but sometime in the early ’80s, they disbanded and scattered.
The temple and ashram at 3612 Foothill was torn down and replaced with a series of small retail fronts and offices. Interestingly, one of those storefronts is occupied by Que Linda Boutique and Soul Workshop, a center for New Age philosophy, healing, alternative medicine, yoga, reiki, plus products designed to help seekers on their spiritual paths. Perhaps a bit of the old magic of aum still resides on that site.