Will the L. Ron Hubbard House Turn a Camelback Neighborhood Into a Scientology Recruitment Mecca?

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Despite all this zaniness, Scientology (which, loosely translated from Latin, means "the study of knowledge or truth") maintained a relatively low profile until the late '60s, when the IRS revoked the church's tax-exempt status after deciding that its activities benefited Hubbard more than the religion itself. In 1993, the IRS reversed its decision, granting tax-exempt status to all Scientology churches (there are 153 of them around the globe) in what one local member of Anonymous, a loose national coalition of Internet protesters who have primarily targeted Scientology, calls an "IRS infiltration and intimidation that led to fraud."

It's not stories about government coercion or extraterrestrials that have the Hubbard House neighbors spooked, they insist. It's mostly about the traffic, they'll tell you. It all started right after the Scientology people completed the extensive renovation of the Hubbard House in 2005, a restoration so precise that it refurbished not only the façade and interior of the home, but also its décor, right down to duplicating exactly the curtains, lamps, and accessories seen in interior photos taken by Hubbard in the '50s. (The renovation was so meticulous, it won the 2007 Arizona Governor's Heritage Preservation Honor Award.)

It wasn't long after the renovation was completed that tour buses full of Scientologists started showing up, according to Mea Abraham, who lives across the street from the Hubbard House and is one of a half-dozen North Camelback residents who've devoted themselves to policing the property.

"They were bringing in buses full of Scientologists from Los Angeles," Abraham says, "and there'd be cars lined up full of people wanting to see the house. There was traffic congestion, and people leaving trash in our yards, and using my circular driveway to turn around in. I don't care what their religion is — Catholic, Episcopalian, they're free to practice whatever they want. But this is a residential neighborhood, and it shouldn't be overrun with traffic."

It wasn't, Brock insists. "Only a handful of people would visit the house on any given day," she says. "And they'd be required to park in the parking area behind the house, not on the neighborhood streets."

No matter. The shit really hit the fan when people started showing up at JoEllen Feltham's door looking for Tom Cruise. Shortly after, the City of Phoenix busted Brock for posting a sign stating that the Hubbard House was now a museum. Meanwhile, Feltham helped create a neighborhood coalition called Neighbors Against Business Operations at Residential Sites (NABORS) to protest the Hubbard House as a public, profit-making place.

The group circulated a petition, collecting 256 signatures opposing the house's museum status and zoning violation. They complained to the city that the Scientologists' request to have local zoning ordinances rewritten to allow them to operate a museum (or, as rumor had it, a Scientology church) in a residential neighborhood would impact the entire city in a negative way, allowing any for-profit business to call itself a museum. And they flooded the City Council with letters, forcing Brock to suspend tours of the Hubbard House until the issue got sorted out.

And with that, the war between the nice North Camelback neighbors and the weird UFO religion was on.

It's a battle, according to Jeff Jacobson, that the Scientologists will undoubtedly win. Jacobson has made a career of demeaning Scientology in published articles, public appearances, and most widely on a pair of anti-Hubbard Web sites: Critical Information about Scientology (www.lisamcpherson.org/cos) and Jeff's Exposing Scientology Blog (cultxpt.wordpress.com). He says the Church's powerful, in-house legal team will make short work of "fixing this mess in their favor," although he wonders why the Scientologists even care about Hubbard's former Phoenix home.

"L. Ron Hubbard grew up in Montana," Jacobson points out, "and that house isn't a museum. His house in Tilden, Nebraska, isn't either. The ranch in California where he died isn't a monument. So why all the fuss about the Phoenix house?"

Most locals who've heard about the house will tell you that it's significant because it's where Hubbard wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the book on which he based Scientology. They're mistaken. The book, which has gone on to sell a reported 21 million copies worldwide, was published in 1950, two years before Hubbard rented the little house in the Phoenix subdivision known as Valhalla.

Even Rick Harris, an active Scientologist who joined the church in 1978, believes that Hubbard wrote Dianetics while he lived in Phoenix. Harris thinks it's truly hilarious that the NABORS group is worried about a Church of Scientology starting up on their street. "Why in the hell," he booms, jabbing a finger into the air for punctuation, "would Scientology put a church into a little bitty place like that house, when we've got a perfectly huge facility over on Indian School?" (In fact, the church has recently relocated to North Third Street in downtown Phoenix.) "Heck, I've got bathrooms in my house that are bigger than that place," Harris says, waving an arm around the living room of his massive north Scottsdale home.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela