Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace, Houston, TX

Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace, Houston, TX

Construction on the Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace was to be the beginning of a grand complex for spiritual rejuvenation, an oasis of calm within the sprawling suburbs of western Houston. But with the US government preventing the group leader's 2001 return from a trip abroad, all work stopped, without much hope of seeing the Tien Tao temple complex completed.

It has the architectural air of Dr. No meets Wernham-Hogg or Dunder-Miflin. The dramatic gold dome looks perfect for housing a doomsday weapon and twin minarets flank either side, but the construction and materials has all the grace and inspiration of a mundane industrial office tower. The entire property is gated and fenced off, but exploration of the north wall may reveal an accessible entrance. Once on the grounds, visitors to the building will find it buttoned up tight with robust security gates around all the main entrances and side doors. With the project stopped before the interior was started, the inside (apparently) has little to offer. Windows are either blacked out or too high to gaze in on, so the simple bizarreness of the building will have to do. The palace, for an abandoned building, remains surprisingly tidy and seemingly maintained. Grass mowed, parking lot relatively free of garbage and graffiti painted over.

That being said, the rarely trafficked streets and expansive grounds are conducive for relaxation. This island of calm may not be what the religious group had in mind, but it does seem to be a perfect retreat to reflect on spiritual fulfilment and the transient nature of this suburban dream.

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