Most Unknown: Ashford Point Palace of the Golden Orbs

Tien Tao Temple, or Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace, Ashford Point, Houston

One highlight of David Beebe and John Nova Lomax’s Richmond Ave. walking tour mentioned here last week was Lomax’s description of this strange vision on the #25 bus route to Mission Bend:

Towards the end of the line, the bus turned left off Richmond and into a weird suburban residential neighborhood. Ashford Point, the street we were on, was bisected by a greenspace in which there was a sunken trail, which ducked under the streets in little tunnels.

And then there was… this thing, this sprawling empty complex, this five-story square building topped by a 40-foot golden geodesic dome, flanked by two smaller domes. Two exterior staircases flanked these orbs – the overall effect was something like a sawed-off Mayan temple of the sun.

The whole compound was ringed by an iron fence, and then there was another huge fence around the entry to the building. The vast parking lot was empty, and there were no signs nor apparently even a mailbox. It was completely surreal. Neither Beebe nor I had a clue what it was – Beebe thought it might be the private residence of a very weird Arab sheik. I thought at first that it might be a mosque, but it didn’t look much like one closer up.

After the jump: What was it?


As Lomax discovers the next day, after harnessing the power of The Google, the building is the Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace, built by members of the Wu-Wei Tien Tao Association, a Chinese universalist religious organization. A Houston Press article by Steve McVicker from September 1996 — covering an earlier deed-restriction dispute between the Tien Taoists and residents of the Kingsbridge Park neighborhood — gives some background on the sect and includes this detail on the temple structure, shortly before it was built:

Within two or three months, construction on the first phase of a new Tien Tao temple is scheduled to be completed on Ashford Point, not far from Master Cheung’s home. The striking five-story structure will be stark white in color and will provide 40,000 square feet of floor space . . . The new temple, which will carry an eventual price tag of more than $6 million, will include a three-story, copper-colored geodesic dome that will serve as “the palace of the God.” The dome, and two smaller ones, will eventually be hoisted atop the structure, ensuring that the temple will stand out like the Taj Mahal among the apartment complexes and strip centers in the area. The structure is the first of its kind for Tien Tao, whose followers hope to have the first floor operational for services before the summer.

Apparently, more buildings were intended. This drawing, found on the website of Houston architect Duane Bradshaw, shows one image from the master plan of an 11 acre site — featuring daycare, retail, and residential facilities for the religious organization:

Master Plan for Tien Tao Temple by Duane Bradshaw

In 1999, the sect’s new leader, Kwai Fun Wong, made the mistake of traveling to her native Hong Kong to arrange the funeral of her predecessor. Wong had applied for permanent residency in the U.S. several years earlier, but had not yet secured permission for her trip from the INS (though her lawyer had applied for it). Upon her return, Kwai Fun Wong was deported, leaving the sect without a local leader. Wong’s legal appeals were denied.

Lomax writes:

The building now pretty much defines white elephant, but I guess you could say it is one of the most unknown of Houston’s odd places.

Photo: TexAgs Forum user Old Main; Drawing of Tien Tao Temple Master Plan: Duane Bradshaw Architects

11 Comment

  • Compare this to the golden appurtenances of the Luz del Mundo church on 59 north, on the way to IAH. Luz del Mundo is Houston’s very own mini-St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with truncated piazza arms.

  • This post piqued my interest in the temple. Finally visited the site!

    Neon Poisoning: Fun in the Sun: Abandoned Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace

  • What a shock to see that mass of steel again! I nearly flunked out of Aggieland in the fall of 1994 due to the Tien Tao temple. By day I studied electrical engineering, but by night I worked for the local steel fabricator and erector of the temple. Working in my apartment in College Station, I drafted the structural steel, handrails and staircases for this and other Houston buildings. I distinctly remember hard nights, where instead of studying, I worked out the complicated staircases in this building. It includes TWO stairs which spiral within the main geodesic dome as mirror images of one another. It’s as if each level in the temple serves as a higher order of sought righteousness, whereby a zenith of faith (or brainwashing) culminates on a small platform within the apogee of the dome…

  • Wow . . . are the two other domes habitable too?

  • Negative, Gus. Those two our mere orb decor.

  • I did a photoshoot here. Wanted to get access to the site, because people have told me there is a gate you can sneak through because it is broken or has a hole in it… I didn’t find it lol. We settled on the grass and fences around the site.

  • Thanks for doing the research on this building. I’ve lived in the Alief area for 30 years, moving to Houston at age 21, and have always been fascinated with this building. No one I asked could tell me anything about this odd but interesting structure so I was left wondering for a very long time. Thanks Again…

  • Was just wondering if someone would want to buy it how much would it cost? What would you have to do to purchase an abandoned building?

  • Very interesting, Nice to know about culture and Architecture in my Ever changing hometown of Houston, Texas.

  • I was geocaching and came upon this building and wondered what it was. Someone walking their dog along the bayou, behind it, said it was a shrine and there was someone entombed inside.