Holy City

A California-based commune marked by its founder’s white supremacist teachings and a claim to divine instruction.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Pentecostal
Founder: William E. Riker
Founded: 1919
Ended: 1944
Location: Santa Cruz Mountains, California, United States

Nestled within the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, Holy City emerged as an enigmatic blend of religious commune, roadside attraction, and a stark embodiment of its founder’s extreme ideologies. Founded in 1919 by William Edward Riker, an individual with a checkered past that included occupations as diverse as palm and mind reader, Holy City was initially established as a sanctuary for the followers of Riker’s doctrine, known as The Perfect Christian Divine Way. This new religious movement, incorporated in Los Angeles in 1918, preached an amalgamation of white supremacy, racial and gender segregation, and the abstention from alcohol and sex, under the guise of divine commandment.

Riker, who styled himself with various epithets including “Father” and “The Emancipator,” was born in California in 1873 and led a life marked by controversy and legal evasion, including a move to Canada to escape bigamy charges in San Francisco. RIker had married multiple times, despite proclaiming celibacy as a tenet of his faith.

The commune itself, acquired as 75 acres of land near Los Gatos and eventually expanding to 200 acres, was developed into a peculiar mix of spiritual community and tourist draw. Attractions included an observatory, gas station, dance hall, restaurant, and even penny peep show machines. Riker also installed nine Santa Claus statues and a billboard proclaiming Holy City as “Headquarters for the World’s Most Perfect Government,” alongside a radio station, KFQU, which broadcast both popular programming and Riker’s personal sermons until its closure due to licensing issues.

Politically, Riker was an unabashed advocate for white supremacy, running for Governor of California multiple times on platforms that included banning Black and Asian Americans from owning businesses in the state. His campaigns, however, were unsuccessful, capturing negligible support. Additionally, his outspoken admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany led to his arrest by the FBI in 1942 on charges of sedition, though he was eventually acquitted.

The decline of Holy City was precipitated by the rerouting of California State Route 17, which significantly reduced visitor numbers. By 1960, Riker had lost control of the community, and in a turn of personal transformation, converted to Catholicism in 1966. He passed away in 1969 at the Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara, California.

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