Holy City Glass revival afoot for Hwy. 17 ghost town

Holy City Glass revival afoot for Hwy. 17 ghost town

REDWOOD ESTATES — A revival is in the works for the glass-blowing art studio that had been the sole reason for anyone to visit what’s left of the old Holy City ghost town in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Los Gatos before the death of its proprietor last year.

Holy City — now a largely vacant and forgotten patch off Highway 17 — had been on the market for nearly a decade before its purchase in August by Robert and Trish Duggan for $6 million cash, almost half the $11 million original asking price.

“At this moment, my intention is to eventually reopen the glass studio so that local artists may continue to create and produce,” wrote Trish Duggan in a statement to this newspaper. She hopes to have Holy City Glass open by Christmas 2017, and has been reaching out both to neighbors and the glass-blowing community to tell them about the plan.

Trish Duggan said she’d met former Holy City Glass proprietor and artist Tom Stanton when she lived in Palo Alto and was looking for a local studio. Stanton, who died of cancer in October 2015 after running the shop for 40 years, “helped to teach me new glass-making techniques” with a “kind and patient” demeanor, she said. And when she recently heard the property was for sale, it piqued her interest.

Tom Stanton scoops up a wad of molten glass from the "glory hole" with assistance from Shannon Lovelace. The legendary glass blower of Holy City Glass died in October of 2015. (George Sakkestad/Staff archives)
Tom Stanton scoops up a wad of molten glass from the “glory hole” with assistance from Shannon Lovelace at Holy City Glass in this undated photo. Stanton died last year. Staff file

Duggan did not respond to further queries regarding potential use of the remaining land, but in her statement she said she intends to preserve the area’s natural beauty.

“I love the giant redwoods on the property and intend to leave them so they can grow in majestic beauty for future generations,” Duggan said. “The first time our children visited, they ran down the path and were overjoyed with the sense of beauty and freedom they experienced. They encouraged us to purchase this magnificent property.”

Holy City, on the Old Santa Cruz Highway that was the sole link between San Jose and Santa Cruz before Highway 17 was built, used to be the site of hodge-podge roadside attractions including a zoo, service station, observatory, peep show, soda stand — all part of the headquarters for an odd-ball white supremacist cult led by flamboyant William E. Riker, who set up shop in 1919 and later became a Nazi sympathizer.

The population of Holy City topped out at about 300 in the 1930s but Highway 17’s completion the following decade hampered its ability to reel in weary and curious travelers. Riker died at Agnews State Hospital in 1969 at age 96, three years after converting to Roman Catholicism.

Aside from the parcel with the glass shop, much of the Holy City site is on steep hillsides studded with trees and shrubs. Santa Clara County officials said there hasn’t been any application to do anything with the land, and it is zoned for sparse residential use. Neighbors and glass-art fans are encouraged by the Duggans’ intent to keep things much as they are.

The site of what will be the new Holy City Glass Studio on Old Santa Cruz Highway near Los Gatos, Calif., photographed Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. That's the plan the billionaire Scientologist Trish Duggan has for the site. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)
The site of what will be the new Holy City Glass Studio on Old Santa Cruz Highway near Los Gatos. Pat Tehan/Staff

Bruce Suba of Scotts Valley-based Suba Neon, who is making the new Holy City Glass sign, called Trish Duggan “super cool, the coolest billionaire I’ve ever met.”

“At least they’re not going to bulldoze what’s there and put up apartments,” Suba said, adding that any addition to the glass community is welcome.

“There’s not many of us around anymore,” he said, reminiscing about his old friend Tom Stanton. “Everybody in the glass cult knows everybody — we’re a bunch of wackos.”

Jon Scally, who fabricates out of the Bay Area Glass Institute shop at Kelley Park in San Jose, met Duggan when she went into the Hillsdale Home Depot where he works about three months ago with a contractor, to buy materials for the site. Conversation soon turned into a commission.
“We were chatting, and she showed me that she was making Buddhist heads out of cast glass, and I showed her images of the Buddhist prayer wheels that I’ve been making,” he said. “She said she’d love to have one of those for the site. It became a connection between the two of us.”

Doo Young Chi, who runs the Redwood Estates general store on the other side of Highway 17, said chatter has simmered down since the announcement in August, although some residents remain wary of what may become of the larger site.

“With bare minimal information, everyone is going to speculate,” he said. “But as far as the glass shop, that would be a great honor to Tom.”

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