Pasadena Campus & Ambassador Hall on TNT the other night

My wife and I have taken to watching the TNT series Leverage, starring Timothy Hutton and an assorted cast of talented folks.  Each episode has the feel of a classic “heist” flick, but with good guys being helped instead of bad guys.  Since our schedules are so erratic, we record it on our DVR and watch it whenever we have a spare opportunity, which also helpfully affords us the power of the “fast forward” button over commercials and other items.

Well, we were watching the last two episodes of the season last night (originally airing 2/17 & 2/24) when I slammed on the pause button.  “What?” asks a curious family.

“That’s Ambassador College!” replied a surprised Dad.  I ran downstairs to get an old “Envoy” we had inherited from someone and, sure enough, the grounds and buildings around the actors as they walked up some stairs were unmistakable.  It was the Pasadena campus.  Then, as they entered a building, I figured it would move to some set piece in a studio.  Nope.  “I think that’s Ambassador Hall!” — and it was: it was the interior of the old Hulett C. Merritt home, looking as gorgeous as ever.

Then we started to wonder: what other scenes in these episodes were filmed on the Ambassador College grounds?  I suspect that the “art gallery” in the show was one of the AC buildings, and the surroundings during the scene by the fountain — while not the “swan” fountain — were certainly familiar from pictures.

I did not go to Ambassador College (I went to God’s other college, Texas A & M University), so I can’t speak with first-hand familiarity.  However, one of our kind elders here in the area, as well as his wife, worked on the campus for decades, so we plan on sitting one or both of them down in front of our TV at the soonest opportunity and have them check it out and give us a tour. 🙂

(It isn’t the first time we’ve recognized the campus on TV or in a film.  Way back when we first viewed Tom Hanks’ movie That Thing You Do, we recognized a certain auditorium straight away.)

While it felt neat seeing many of those spots, I must say that I am happy that those we have running the show in Charlotte aren’t spending a lot of money in trying to rebuild such an empire at this time.  They exhibit an attention to the value of “Quality” as I pray they would, but they aren’t caught up in obtaining or rebuilding the trappings of the past merely for the sake of having such trappings (even under other pretenses).  Their priorities are clear: preach the gospel, warn the world, feed the flock — and I believe their stewardship of the tithes and offerings they have received demonstrate clearly that God’s goals are their goals.  Opportunities to build here and there will likely continue present themselves (as the incredible new studio opportunity did) and I pray that Mr. Meredith and those who advise him will have the wisdom that will be needed to decide when to grab such opportunities and when to let them simmer.  The needs of the gospel are our foremost driver, and sometimes the style of the molding you choose for the doorways is impacted by those needs while sometimes it is not, and I’m thankful for the discernment displayed by those in Charlotte when such moments of decision come up.

Still, it was great to see the campus.  In high definition, to boot!

12 thoughts on “Pasadena Campus & Ambassador Hall on TNT the other night

  1. Alex


    We got a chance to walk around the Pasadena campus a bit last year before the Feast.

    It was neat to see some of the buildings.

    Also somewhat disappointing to see where they have removed names and title from some of the buildings.

    Did any one notice the Babylon police cruiser in the BTW film… we saw one just a block from the auditorium (Ironic).

  2. I’ve visited Ambassador College, including the FOT in the old days. Absolutely beautiful – the whole campus. I’m sorry to see what’s become of it.

  3. I remember seeing the AC Auditorium in California in an early episode of Drive. It was used as the set for a scene in NASA Cape Kennedy, Florida. Hah! yeah, Florida filmed in California. They had prop rockets on the raised sidewalk over the reflecting pool; even caught glimpses of the the columns and Egret Fountain. I have that recorded somewhere.

  4. I was a student at AC Pasadena. There was a short-lived science-fiction TV show that did some filming on campus, either when I was there or just before. Anyway, it surely surprised my mother and I alike to see the Italian Gardens and the main buildings by them in the episode.

    The “Babylon Security” car had to be pointed out to me, but yes, I’ve seen the car on a replay of the video.

  5. Lost

    I visited the campus in Dec 2008 and the former Hulett C Merritt mansion was owned and occupied by Sunrise Investments as an office building. The nearby mansion of Hulett’s father, Lewis J Merritt, at 350 West Del Mar was under renovation and sold in Nov 2008 for $2 Million.

    [Edit: Greetings, Lost! I hope you don’t mind, but I edited out this last part of your comment. I don’t know Mr. Merritt or anyone in his family, but I don’t normally allow items like that in the event that they are an unfair characterization, especially if the individual is not around to set the record straight if need be. Nothing personal, and thanks for stopping by and commenting! — WGS]

  6. Dave

    I attended AC in Pasadena for 4 years in the 70’s. Many of the students had a great time. I did not. I found the beautiful campus really masked a much darker reality — and time has shown me to be correct. I’m glad the whole thing came crashing down. That was a good thing.

  7. Howdy, Dave, and I’m glad you had the chance to attend AC, though I’m sorry that you missed the beautiful reality behind the beautiful campus. While no college is perfect, to be sure, if you think time has shown you to be correct then I’m afraid that you lack sufficient discernment.

  8. Hi Mr. Smith,

    I WAS there at AC Pasadena during 1977-1981, and of course have heard stories since. For the sake of people such as Dave, I can speak to what lay behind the surface and why from my own perspective.

    The 1977-1978 school year was known not too long afterward (by me and some others) as “the last year of the liberal era”. (If we only knew what would happen later.) That year the student bodies of Pasadena and Big Sandy were combined. By my own reckoning, 1/3rd were there for the right reasons, 1/3rd probably shouldn’t have been there at all, and 1/3rd were caught in the middle not quite knowing where to stand. This was before it became clear just what lay behind this state of affairs.

    The overriding cause (risking oversimplification) was tension between Herbert W. Armstrong and those loyal to him on one end of the rope and those who had their own agendas on the other, with the Church and the College caught in between. (As Mr. Armstrong put it himself later, this tension caused a “Laodicean pall” to settle over the Church as a whole during most of the 1970’s.) When Mr. Armstrong finally saw the problem, he closed the College and then reopened it with a small group of freshmen and sophomores. I was one of the sophomores. It was not that “we had a good time”, but rather that “we did a good Work”, and had quite a bit of fun along the way as well.

    Regrettably indeed, not all of the poison was drained from the wound, and after Mr. Armstrong’s death, some people who survived Mr. Armstrong’s housecleaning rose up to try to destroy the Church and the College from within once again. This is, again, at the risk of oversimplification, but Satan’s underlying strategy didn’t change over time even if his overt tactics may have somewhat.

    The truth is, God’s Church always has had tares as well as wolves and fifth columnists threatening its Work, and what happened to the WCG and AC was only Act Umpteen of a long, long historical and prophetic stage play. At the time, we tended to forget that, and sometimes I think we still do.

  9. Yes I think it was disgusting that Ambassador College/University was shut down but in retrospect it was the entire WCG membership by not going to AC/AU who could be said to have added to its demise.If the whole WCG membership was an Ambassador College/University Alumni then we could have had a better institutional church-college united front against the closure of both the AC/AU and WCG etc.I am an ex Youth Opportunities United Hamilton New Zealand WCG chapter member who went to the University of Waikato.

  10. Nicki

    My visual memories of the Pasadena campus of AC are all from photographs and videos as my only visit was when I was 2 years old, but I still have recognized scenes from the campus in Leverage, The Informant, That Thing You Do…I get so excited when I see it. I feel a connection to the campus even though I was only a student at AU in Big Sandy for one year before it closed.

  11. Hey, thanks for sharing! I didn’t know it was used in The Informant. I haven’t seen that, though I have seen the trailer. I’ll have to go out to and look that trailer up to see if I can pick it out! 🙂

  12. Robert Petry

    Today I was searching for info on the internet about Ambassador College in Pasadena. Looking for alumni also. Funny, not much is on the net about the years I was there. And,virtually nothing on the years I’m familiar with. During the search this post came up, so I looked, and it was your site.
    Sorry that Dave, and others have the ideas they have about AC in the early years. It was a beautiful place, and I spent a terrific six years of my life there. Most of the nonsense came later. My wife and I were there from 1959 thru 1966. Graduated in 1963.

    I’ve learned those years put my wife and I in a “unique” position. The critics of Ambassador etal don’t want to listen because I was there and know where their fibs are and their false accusations. And, I know what changed the whole place to become what we see today. And, those who should want to hear these things seem afraid to hear them.

    That beautiful stream on the campus is partially due to my work. I helped dig it out and push and shove the big rocks into place. Still remember the day the water was turned on and everybody came to see.

    Anyway, well, maybe not… folks today don’t like to hear the good parts, just the exaggerations and 60th hand stories and rumors. It’s too bad there is no place on the net now where one can speak the things I’d like to say about Ambassador, etc. Like, what was Herbert W. Armstrong really like when no one else was around but me to actually see what he was like in private? Or, his son? They were not the ogres the disgruntled critics like to tell us.
    Reality is nothing like the rumors, distortions, and criticisms. But, in the end, the truth will out.

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