California Ghost Town
William E. Riker, who called himself “the only man who can save California from going plum to hell” began preaching his “Prefect Christian Divine Way” in San Francisco around 1915 after trying a palm reading act.
Riker purchased land on the Old Santa Cruz Highway and started a colony with 30 followers soon after naming the town Holy City. The men and women lived in separate dormitories and operated the town’s attractions. Riker preached white supremacy, segregation amongst the sexes and races and sobriety. This was in contrast to Riker himself being married and the town selling beer.
Holy City survived as a tourist stop attracting motorists coming to and from San Jose with billboards along the roadside. In town were fourteen pump gas stations, a comfort station, restaurant, “Mystery Hall”, auditorium, printing press and radio station, KFQU. A traveler could also pay to peep into miniature churches or use a telescope offering a glimpse into Heaven.
State Route 17 opened in 1940 and the town lost traffic. Holy City was sold to a Hollywood promoted in 1954, after which numerous arson attempts destroyed the colony.
(All photos Oakland Tribune, January 1929)