updated 12/14/2006 10:01:43 PM ET 2006-12-15T03:01:43

It was called Holy City, but it was not exactly a model of Christian piety. It was, rather, a commune and tourist trap created in the 1920s by a white-supremacist huckster.

Now, decades after Holy City fell into ruin, the 142-acre site is a prime piece of real estate in the hills outside booming Silicon Valley, and it is up for sale for $11 million.

“Bad, good or indifferent, there is a history here, and my hope is that somebody will take that history and spin it into a good thing for the future,” said Jim E. Miller, the real estate agent who is selling Holy City for three elderly investors who have owned the property since 1966.

Finding such a big swath of usable land in the San Francisco Bay area is unusual enough. But the listing of Holy City has also resurrected curiosity about the roadside compound lorded over during the 1920s, ’30s and ’50s by William E. Riker, a former necktie salesman and palm reader who staged four campaigns for governor and corresponded with Adolf Hitler.

Fires, time and a freeway have reduced to a few ramshackle buildings the community where Riker’s disciples sold food, gas, haircuts and his “Perfect Divine Christian Way” doctrine on the main road between Santa Cruz and San Jose.

But plenty of people still remember the billboard proclaiming it as “Headquarters for the World’s Most Perfect Government.” The grounds held a dance hall, an observatory, a radio station Riker used to air his views, and outhouse-sized church steeples where visitors could watch saucy peep shows.

Betty E. Lewis, a local historian and author of “Holy City: Riker’s Religious Roadside Attraction,” recalls driving by as a child and that it resembled “a sideshow more than anything else.”

“My father didn’t want to stop there,” she said. “He thought it was in bad taste.”

Riker, who referred to himself as “The Comforter” and “The Emancipator,” preached racial segregation and instructed his followers — who never numbered more than 300 or so — to maintain celibacy.

But Riker had a different standard for himself. He lived at Holy City with his fourth wife. While encouraging disciples to renounce worldly possessions, he drove Cadillacs.

The California agency that regulates charities investigated his finances. In 1931, Washington revoked the radio station’s license. The government also charged him with sedition in 1942 after he was caught endorsing Hitler’s views. He was never convicted.

Long decline started in 1940s
After a freeway that bypassed Holy City was built in 1940, the place went into a long decline. The land fell out of Riker’s control in 1960 and he died in 1969.

Until the Holy City post office closed in 1982, locals still came by to get their Christmas cards postmarked. These days, the main draw is the art glass studio run by Tom Stanton, who has been Holy City’s only resident since 1976 and does a decent business in Christmas ornaments, decorative pumpkins and “Holy Roller” marbles.

“It’s kind of weird in a New Age way — you are the one keeping the light until someone makes it a real holy city,” Stanton said.

Stanton said he hopes whoever buys the land uses it for something with a spiritual edge, say a meditation center or “a modern-day utopia that is realistic.”

Miller has spoken to several families interested in developing the property in one of California’s top wine-growing regions as a communal homestead. The land is zoned for 10 homes.

“I have not yet come across anybody who gave me a sense they were creeped out by the history,” Miller said. “There is a lot of intrigue about the property, but I think at the end of the day that for investors or buyers, it will turn out to be about dollars and cents.”

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