All that exist now are a handful of indistinguishable ruins that were once a thriving tourist town called Holy City, as well as a single building owned by the ghost town’s only remaining resident, who operates the Holy City Art Glass Sign shop.
Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of the roaring twenties, Holy City featured the visages of nine gigantic Santa Claus statues festooned with nutty religious slogans such as: “If you are contemplating marriage, suicide or crime, see us first!” Not only could you get your dose of wacky religiosity, but you could also take in one of 50 peep show booths — if such was your wont — in between filling up with gas.
Above: Remnants of Holy City taken from the Dalmdad Landscape Flicker page.
Situated along the old road that ran between San Francisco and San Jose, Holy City — in its hinky heyday — boasted a dance hall, restaurant, observatory, bottling plant, radio station and a zoo. In the annals of nutty NorCal history, this defunct and loony landmark had once been described as a “combination religious commune, tourist trap and sexual Disneyland,” which certainly places it in the LOWFI Hall of Fame, where odd convergences such as these attract the fancy of Forteans and bohemians alike. (And that’s what LOWFI means to me…)
Holy City was the realized vision and crackpot creation of a certain “Father” William E. Riker, who billed himself as “Chief Comforter” and “Wisest Man on Earth” as he broadcasted religiously racist rants from his Holy City radio station.
It was around the turn of the century that Riker first experienced some sort of revelation thereby leading to the formation of his church, The Perfect Christian Divine Way, which he claimed held all the answers to a perfect world government, and — as it so happened — the Lord had chosen him to be the leader of. Thereafter, Riker collected a handful of fickle followers and set up his own commune in San Francisco, but for some reason soon found himself at odds with the law for such indelicacies as grand larceny, embezzlement and assorted acts “injurious to public morals.” This is what prompted Riker, in 1918, to move south and purchase 180 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains where he founded Holy City, and what he termed as “Headquarters for the World’s Perfect Government.”
At its height, Riker’s commune boasted over 300 disciples, with the men in the flock greatly outnumbering the gals, the latter of which were assigned weekly duties designed to satisfy the male member’s sexual whims. Like all good guru driven outfits, disciples were expected to hand over all their worldly goods in exchange for room, board and Salvation Army clothes. It was from these “free will love offerings” that Father Riker was able to build his envisioned Holy City, along the way acquiring a fleet of six Cadillacs.
According to a January 7th, 1985, San Francisco Examiner article by John Flinn:
“…In 1938, Riker launched the first of his four consecutive campaigns for governor, running on a platform that called for blacks and Asians to be denied the right to own businesses and be relegated to ‘their proper station of serving the white race.’ He received nearly 15,000 votes in the 1950 campaign, his last.
“Over the years, authorities tried without success to put Riker behind bars. He was accused of bigamy, reckless driving, tax evasion, fraud, breach of promise, sedition and murder, but never spent a day in jail.
“In 1937, the state Department of Highways built a new highway that bypassed Riker’s kingdom. With no motorists to patronize the peep shows, Holy City began drying up. By 1948, there were only about 20 disciples left.
“In 1961, Riker and his followers made one last bid to rebuild their mountain utopia by calling all tax collectors and prostitutes in Northern California to donate 10 percent of their earnings to the cause. There was little response.
“Five years later, at the age of 93, Riker shocked his few remaining followers by converting to Catholicism. He died in 1969 at Agnews State Hospital, where he spent his last years, unable to get along with anyone in the convalescent homes…”