Monday, November 9, 2009

Holy City, CA

Searching for an interesting site for a future light painting experiment, I came across what's left of Holy City near Highway 17, once the headquarters for William E. Riker and his goofy religious commune. Riker, a Depression-era cultist, on-the-run bigamist, repeated candidate for governor, and avid Hitler supporter, promised his followers a "Perfect Christian Divine Way" in a quasi-utopian experiment that began in 1918.

In her Saga of Holy City, Andrea Perkins describes how Riker's town, once home to 300 souls, became a minor tourist trap, selling gas, water, and (some say) lurid peep shows. Back then, motorists taking the only road connecting San Jose and Santa Cruz stopped to gawk at murals and banners announcing the new kingdom. One sign announced: "William E. Riker - The only man who can save California from going plum to hell."

Declining interest in Riker's vision, failed real estate transactions, and unexplained fires emptied Holy City in the fifties and sixties. Today only a house and post office, now a glass art store, remain. And then there's this shed, a weathered structure supported with the help of diagonal beams. The owners (folks unaffiliated with the former commune) gave their permission, so Jenny and I will return one night for some light painting.

Learn more: Betty Bagby Lewis's Holy City - Riker's Roadside Attraction In the Santa Cruz Mountains is said to be the definitive history of this town. I've already ordered my copy...


Also see: San Joaquin Valley Library vertical file

And: John V. Young's Rise and Fall of Holy City

See more: Here's the light painting experiment from our return to Holy City

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

6 comments:

Rolo said...

I thought you may appreciate this old photo of Holy City, CA that I found. I'm not sure which direction it is pointing at, do you know?

http://images.google.com/hosted/life/f?imgurl=3d148e446de51a63

Andrew Wood said...

Cool image! I'm not entirely sure about the direction, though. Next time I get down there, I'll give it a look...

Phillip Salfen said...

I believe the building in the background, with the "Headquarters" sign, sits just about where the existing building is. I remember seeing one of those burn down but not sure which. I do remember seeing the Hotel (a couple of turns down OSCHwy) burn though. I've got a bunch of old photos my parents took back when my Dad had the market there but have not scanned all of them yet.

Andrew Wood said...

Phillip, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I'm certainly no expert, so I appreciate you taking the time to offer your perspective.

Rolo said...

Phillip, if ever you decide to scan those photos perhaps you can share them, I'd be curious to view them. Thank you

Anonymous said...

That building was the volunteer fire station. So I was told by a local amateur historian.