KPOF: The neon Sherman Street sign marking the legacy of a racist feminist preacher

Alma Temple is marked by a neon sign spelling KPOF, for the Pillar of Fire radio religious radio station. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Alma Temple is marked by a neon sign spelling KPOF, for the Pillar of Fire radio religious radio station. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Alma Temple is marked by a neon sign spelling KPOF, for the Pillar of Fire radio religious radio station. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

There’s a building on Sherman Street just old enough that you might not notice how odd it is: the KPOF building, more officially known as Alma Temple.

The “POF” in KPOF stands for Pillar of Fire, an Evangelical sect founded in Denver by Alma White, a feminist who turned out to be more popular than her minister husband.

She was often called the “only woman bishop in the world,” and she wrote 35 tracts and some 200 hymns, according to her obituary in the New York Times.

The prolific preacher wanted the vote and other rights for women, calling Jesus Christ “the great emancipator of the female sex” and saying that “the clanking of the chains of women will still be heard in the mind of a merciful redeemer,” according to Susie Stanley’s biography.

White also preached out-and-out racism, arguing in her “The Good Citizen” publication in 1929, for example, that “social equality between the black and the white races would violate the edicts of the Holy Writ.”

Alma White (Public domain)
Alma White (Public domain)

White also sold Alma College in New Jersey to the Ku Klux Klan as part of that hate group’s plans to further its ideas. She slowly deemphasized those ideas in the 1930s, when she “turned her energy” to supporting prohibition, Stanley writes. (The church has long since repudiated its racist ideas and associations.)

 

The building itself was dedicated on Halloween day of 1937. Alma White had bought the land, covering ten lots, for $20,000 some 15 years earlier, according to a church history. She appeared to be quite the negotiator, often scoring properties for far less than their apparent value, according to Stanley’s biography.

Willis Adams Marean was the architect. His other work included the Orpheum Theater and the Governor’s Mansion and the Greek Theater, among lots of other stuff.

The metal doors of Alma Temple. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
The metal doors of Alma Temple. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
A memorial to Alma White. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
A memorial to Alma White. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

The lava-stone and brick temple was built almost entirely by Pillar of Fire workers and mechanics, the history states. The project was delayed significantly by the Depression. Construction also included the installation of a 1,300-pipe organ that is “a combination of church organ, orchestral organ, and brass band, in one.” I don’t know whether that’s still in there or not.

Also unclear is just when the huge KPOF sign was mounted. Radio was part of the church from its early history, with the opening 1937 ceremony broadcast out over the air. (The actual transmitter appears to have been located in Westminster, though, and still is.)

At the dedication, then-mayor Benjamin Stapleton suggested that it might be good to “try mixing more religion in the finance and economics of this country.”

Pillar of Fire also owns “Westminster Castle,” home to Belleview Christian Schools and one of its KPOF radio network transmitters, which you can listen to online. At one point, the church may have had up to 61 branches. That number looks to be about six now.

I called to ask for a look inside, by the way, but haven’t heard back yet.

The KPOF sign at Alma Temple illuminated. (SJSharkTank/Flickr/ cropped, distributed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
The KPOF sign at Alma Temple illuminated. (SJSharkTank/Flickr/ cropped, distributed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.