In person, Brock is hardly the scheming, wacked-out witch she's made out to be. Tall and reserved, she seems genuinely confused that her neighbors are so put off by her.
"Yes, I am from the L. Ron Hubbard House," she says in a throaty German accent. "I am a Scientologist. But I am also a neighbor who wants to explain what we are doing here."
What she's doing there, Brock says, is trying to make the L. Ron Hubbard House "available to anyone who cares to see it, from Scientologists to architectural students to religious scholars." In the meantime, she's been working with the city to get the decrepit sidewalk on her street repaired, because it's currently unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists. In her spare time, she runs Toys for Tots drives to gather playthings for poor kids.
All this charity is just a cover, according to Brock's neighbors. "The Scientologists are very sophisticated," Abraham says. "They are very organized, and they know everything about everyone."
Well, maybe not everything. No one involved in Scientology here or abroad, for instance, appears to know anything about the significance of the house directly across the street from the L. Ron Hubbard House. Although he once rented the home on North 44th Street that now bears his name, Hubbard apparently owned the property facing this one — a fact uncovered in researching this story, but one that no one at Scientology headquarters can document. ("We could find no record of this in our files," Brock wrote in an e-mail, "nor can we locate anyone who was familiar with this [property].")
Public records show that in September 1954, Hubbard sold for $10 "Lot Fifteen, Valhalla Amended," the northeastern corner lot facing the Hubbard House, to a local brewery employee named Joseph Lanser. The price tag on the property suggests that Hubbard may have sold it to an acolyte of the recently launched Hubbard Association of Scientologists International, headquartered then in downtown Phoenix, perhaps with plans to build a meeting place for his new religion. One can imagine Hubbard sitting on the front porch of his rented home in 1954, staring out at what was then a largely undeveloped desert landscape, and thinking, "This would be a nice place for a church."
Instead, Hubbard unloaded the property on North 44th Street the following year and blew town, relocating his Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation to Washington, D.C., perhaps because of the new religion's recent bad press about the trashed Humphrey house and the Edd Clark fiasco.
Leslie doesn't care why Hubbard left; she's just glad he didn't stick around to build a Church of Scientology at the end of her block. "That would have changed the whole personality of Phoenix," she says. "We wouldn't be the Valley of the Sun; we'd be the Valley of the Founding of Scientology or whatever. I wouldn't have wanted my kids exposed to that." Asked to explain exactly what the Scientologists have done to her street beyond trying to fix a couple of sidewalks and take up collections for needy kids, Leslie just groans.
"Oh, sure," she says. "They put on a good show. But they're not going to be collecting toys for tots once they get opened to the public. They'll have people lined up using their E-Meter, if we let them. They're very sophisticated and savvy, and they know exactly what they're doing. And," she says, dropping her voice to a whisper, "have you noticed? They're all foreigners!"
Back at the L. Ron Hubbard House, the holiday bash is in full swing. Brock, who's wearing a feather boa, has made a polite speech about the Golden Rule and "treating others as you'd like to be treated yourself." Judy Conner, who lives on the other side of 44th Street, is having a blast. She's been to the house before, she tells another party guest, but no one has ever mentioned Scientology to her. Bruce Brown agrees. "I keep waiting for a Scientology pitch from Marlyse whenever I see her," he says. "But it never comes."
"That's fine with me," Conner says. "I'm not into that."
A few doors down, a neighbor stands at her picture window, glowering at a teenage boy in a Santa hat who's been walking up and down her street. She's convinced he's a stray guest from the party, and she's not letting him out of her sight.