Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Communal
by Paul Tutwiler


  1. Ohlone People
  2. Romani People
  3. Communes founded before the 1960s
  4. Hippie communes of the 1960s counterculture
  5. Communes founded since the 1960s counterculture

In the essay, "Meaning of the term spirituality" in Chapter 5 Particulars, it is pointed out that group spirituality is "the shared faith of a smaller or larger number of persons." The communal family is only one of three kinds of associations that have a shared faith. The three are:

  1. Institutional bodies such as the Catholic Church or other religious institutions into which people are born or which they join as individuals. In the sense that the organization has a kind of life of itself, the members belong to it rather than constitute it. The great majority of associations listed in this study have this kind of spirituality.
  2. Various peoples of the world who have within their body cultural, historical, and genetic ties and a distinctive spirituality embedded in these ties. The Encyclopedia of American Religions does not have a place for this type of spirituality, but the present study needs one because of two groups that must not be omitted, the Ohlone and the Romani. I put them here, under Communal Family, as the most appropriate place for them.
  3. Intentional communities, also known as communes, which are constituted by the will of the members. Communes do not have to have a spirituality, but historically most communes throughout the world have arisen from a religious background and and possess therefore an inherent spirituality. Following Timothy Miller, The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999, pp. xxi-xxiv, it can be said that the characteristics of intentional communities are that they have
    • a sense of common purpose and of separation from the dominant society,
    • some form and level of self-denial, of voluntary suppression of individual choice in favor of the good of the group
    • geographic proximity
    • personal interaction
    • economic sharing
    • real existence

Monasteries and convents, a few of which are found in Santa Cruz County, are examples of intentional communities which are of type 1, that is, of institutional spirituality, and they are listed under their religious families in this study. There are also intentional communities which have been formed outside denominational structures. The Encyclopedia's Communal Family consists of a few small denominational groups, such as Hutterites, which do not and have not existed in Santa Cruz County, of a number of non-denominational Christian groups, and of some decidedly non-institutional groups, that is to say, hippies and others. These are the groups which, along with the Ohlone and Romani, make up #14 of the present study.

Ohlone People. Community, Santa Cruz area, before 1791-2008.

Details on the spirituality of the Ohlone are in the essay "Ohlone People" in Chapter 5 Particulars. Although the essay does not state it, I think it to be incontrovertible that some present day Santa Cruz County residents have Ohlone blood.

Romani People. Community, Santa Cruz area, 1876-1948.

Details on the spirituality of the Romani (Roma or Gypsies) are in the essay "Romani People" in Chapter 5 Particulars.

Communes founded before the 1960s

» Spirit Fruit Society. Community, Soquel, 1915-1930.

Founded in Ohio in 1899, this communal group passed its final 15 years in Soquel. Its story can be found in the essay "Spirit Fruit Society" in Chapter 5 Particulars.

» New Jerusalem Colony. Community, Santa Cruz County, c1915-1944.

From 1901 to 1944 this was the home, in the Skyland/Loma Prieta area, of Mother Alice Benninghoven, an eccentric who gave the impression that she considered her place a religious colony. Although she did not seem to have disciples or associates, she is credited with the writing of two books: Born of the Spirit, and A Martyr's Vision. (Margaret Louise Rapp Tarquinio, Mama's Memoirs: Growing Up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, pp. 150-155)

John V. Young, in his book, Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Paper Vision Press, Santa Cruz, 1979, states on p. 88,

While several fine homes are still to be found in the community, the principal attraction at the present is the New Jerusalem colony of Mr. Ernest Benninghoven, a strange religious cult which has struggled along for the last fifteen or twenty years with a handful of converts. Its center is the 'Mt. Sinai Shrine,' a memorial to the memory of Benninghoven, who departed this earth a few years ago.

Note that although Ghost Towns was published as a book in 1979, it consists of a collection of newspaper articles written by Mr. Young around 1934.

» Holy City. Community, Santa Clara County, 1919-1969.

Father Riker's House
Father Riker's House
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

This locally well known utopian community, the seat of the "Perfect Christian Divine Way," existed from 1919 until the death of its founder, Father Riker, in 1969. It was on Old Santa Cruz Highway, about one mile north of Summit Road.

Practically a small town in itself with hundreds of inhabitants at times, Holy City was more a rostrum for Riker's white supremacist notions than a pulpit for Christian ideals.


  • Margaret Louise Rapp Tarquinio. Mama's Memoirs: Growing Up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, pp.131-134.
  • Charles J. Allard. "Father" William E. Riker and his Holy City. San Jose: San Jose State College, 1968.
  • Joan B. Barriga. The Holy City Sideshow. California, 1988.
  • Richard A. Beal. Highway 17, The Road to Santa Cruz. Aptos CA: The Pacific Group, 1991.
  • Paul Kagan. New World Utopias. A Photographic History of the Search for Community. New York: Penguin Books, 1975.
  • Betty Lewis. Holy City: Riker's roadside attraction in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a nostalgic history. Santa Cruz CA: Otter B. Books, c1992.
  • William E. Riker. Holy City Booklets. Holy City CA: Holy City Press, ca 1929.

Hippie communes of the 1960s counterculture

Among the ways the counter culture movement of the 1960s and into the 1970s was manifested were protests against the war in Vietnam, protests against institutional academia, mass rock concerts, and hippie communes. Pure hippieness involved a flight from mid-twentieth century culture, rejection of commonly accepted social ways of life and mainstream spiritualities, desire for oneness with the world, and a sense of sharing this aversion with some peers.

Of the communities founded in the late 1960s and early 1970s that championed countercultural values and arose from the hippie idealization of communal living, many were populated by spiritual seekers, variously exploring Eastern, Native American, Christian, independent mystical, and other paths to enlightenment. Some were composed of environmentalists whose devotion to their cause often had strong spiritual elements. Some hip communes were essentially secular, but they were greatly outnumbered by ones espousing at least a vague spirituality. (Albert Bates and Timothy Miller, "The Evolution of Hippie Communal Spirituality: The Farm and Other Hippies Who Didn't Give Up," chapter 38 of Timothy Miller, editor, America's Alternative Religions, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, p. 371.)

Timothy Miller's works The Quest for Utopia in Twentieth-Century America and The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond are basic reading regarding intentional communities in the United States.

From its renowned stronghold in San Francisco the hippie movement spread south. Communal groups of young people took up temporary residence in out-of-the-way, in some cases abandoned, shacks throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as in out-of-the-way homes. Between their psychedelic drug use as a way of experiencing transcendence of self and their unconventional behavior, the hippies found themselves quite unwanted. Most newspaper article information about them from this era reported mainly that the local population wanted to be rid of them.

Fortunately, there are other sources, among which is a group, the "Hipsters," who are gathering information for a history of the hippie movement in Santa Cruz. The Hipsters have graciously given me permission to use their collection of material, which is available on the website 2008. In the entries below, I shall cite Hipsters where I use their material. Other people who were local residents during the hippie period have given me leads through their personal observations of the communes. From them it is clear that the list below is extremely incomplete, and I hope to be able to add more extensive documented information in the future.

A clarification: In view of the "vague spirituality" to be found in the majority of hippie communes in general, I am assuming that all Santa Cruz hippie communes that I find belong in the list of spiritual associations. If I am sure that a certain commune is positively not spiritual, I do not list it here.

» Koinonia Conference Grounds. Conf center, Santa Cruz County, 1960-2010.

Incorporated in 1960 as a "Christian bible camp and conference grounds," (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 2262) this rural camp, which particularly serves youth in summer, has been on Eureka Canyon Road at least since 1961, when the address was 1473. (1961 Yellow Pages) Its present address is 1605 Eureka Canyon Road, Watsonville 95076, tel. 722-1472. (2010 Yellow Pages) The camp's website is 2010.

I take it to be associated with the Koinonia Community. Established in 1969, (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 3225) the Koinonia Community had "evolved from a small prayer group who opened a coffeehouse in 1967 that served as an experimental Christian mission outreach to young people in trouble, drugs, mostly." In 1971 the Koinonia Community was housed at 240 West Cliff Dr. and it operated a coffeehouse at 24 Front St. (SC Sentinel, July 7, 1971)

The Front Street address remained in the White Pages only through 1975. In the 1976 White Pages the West Cliff address was gone, but the Koinonia Community was at 604 Lighthouse Ave., where it stayed through 1978. (1978 White Pages)

» Hippie camp in Scotts Valley. Community, 1966-?

In 1966 some 80-100 brightly dressed 'hippies' — 'flower children' — arrived to camp. Both the men and the women had long hair — beads, fishnet garments, long boots and dresses, die-twist shirts, funky hats — some with beads and feathers. They were part of the migration out of the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco - via the San Lorenzo Valley.

The property where they settled is known as The Ranch. (Seapy, Scotts Valley, p. 241 and p.243)

» Holiday Cabins. Community, Ben Lomond, 1967-1970.

In 1967 there were about 80 "'hep' type persons" living in the San Lorenzo Valley. Half of these had "taken up residence" in the Holiday Lodge along the San Lorenzo River in May of that year. (Santa Cruz County * A Century, Santa Cruz Sentinel Publishers Company, 1999, pp. 41 and 43, "Santa Cruz Gets Hip," which cites a July 16, 1967 article)

The commune was also named OM; the average stay was two weeks. Negative law enforcement attention was drawn to it by a jazz festival and it was burned down. (Hipsters)

"Ben Lomond's infamous Holiday Cabins were ordered torn down by county supervisors yesterday in what may have been the first full-scale county abatement action against substandard housing. The once-popular 'hippie' gathering place stood accused of polluting the San Lorenzo River with raw sewage and of being a real hazard and fire trap. Owner Edward Chirco said the true hippies were gone long ago, and a 'new crowd' recently moved out, leaving the old motel in a total mess." (SC Sentinel, Sep. 4, 1968)

The SC Sentinel of August 14, 1968 tells of more general complaints about "dirty, unshaved, and ill-dressed persons" in the San Lorenzo Valley, and the San Jose Mercury News of June 5, 1970 reports that,

Persons living communal style Thursday were declared ineligible for free public surplus food by the Santa Cruz County Social Welfare Advisory Board. The action is seen as a clampdown on the increasing number of out-of-county young people who flock here, especially during summer months, to live in communes. Many of the youths occupy abandoned mountain cabins.

» Ralph's House. Community, Santa Cruz, 1968-1970.

This was the home of a University of California Santa Cruz faculty member, on California Street. (Hipsters; also Miller, American Communes Active 1960-1975)

» Nirvana. Community, Aptos, 1968-70.

The owner of a property on Trout Gulch Road put up a sign, "Nirvana," but removed it "when the cops started parking down the road observing us. They did that on and off for the next two years. Meanwhile, dozens of folks moved in and out." The first Santa Cruz area "Full Moon Festival" was held there in 1968. (Hipsters)

» The Flower Farm. Community, La Selva Beach, c1969-c1974.

The Flower Farm community was a distribution hub for marijuana, LSD, and peyote. It was closed by a law enforcement action. (Hipsters)

» ISOT, "In Search of Truth." Community, Santa Cruz, 1969-1971.

ISOT, a Christian religious community, 'whose membership is dedicated to being In Search of Truth," was founded in 1969. ( 2010) Whether or not it was founded in Santa Cruz, it moved its "principal office" from Santa Cruz to Modoc County in 1971. (Santa Cruz County Articles of Incorporation no. 3480) The website specifies that its Modoc County address is Canby.

» Felton Guild. Community, 1969-1979?

The original Felton Guild was on 2.5 acres of land off Highway 9 in Felton, purchased by former Quaker minister Harold Alldis in 1969. Under Alldis's direction, this small community of young people was involved in arts such as woodworking and print and photo shops. It lasted at least until 1979, when Alldis moved to Capitola. (Obituary of Harold Hanwell Alldis, SC Sentinel, Sep. 13, 2003)

Now there is - at what I suppose is the same location - a Felton Guild Outdoor Redwood Wedding Cathedral at 5449 Highway 9, Felton 95018, tel. 336-8093. (2010 White Pages)

» Minton Commune. Community, Santa Cruz County, 1970-1971?

The commune was established on Minton Ranch, China Grade, Boulder Creek, one mile north of Big Basin Highway in 1970, but it was denied county building permits, and the locale was raided by armed local law enforcement officers in March 1971. Finding 12 clean-appearing people and no evidence of illegal activity, the officers left without arresting anyone. (The Valley Press, Mar. 24, 1971) There was a commune called China Grade in "Big Basin Ca. 1968-?" according to Timothy Miller, The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond, Appendix: "American Communes Active 1960-1975," pp. 249-285. This commune appears to be the same as the Minton Commune. Its subsequent history is unknown to me.

» Camp Joy. Community, Boulder Creek, 1971-2010.

Robert V. Hine, in his California Utopianism Contemplations of Eden, San Francisco: Boyd & Fraser Publishing Company, 1981, writes on page 66:

Camp Joy, a four-acre farm in Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz, is part of a network dedicated to a redirection of urban life. Their gardens and orchards are a model of intensive horticulture, heavy mulching, absence of chemicals, and companion planting for higher yields. Since 1971 the residents have maintained their example of a small farm in an urban context. An idealistic, ecological foundation, the Farallones Institute, has supported them along with other such experiments.

Camp Joy still exists in 2010 in its original community form and as an environmentally sound producer of food and natural boutique items like wreaths. The original operators of Camp Joy were Jim and Beth Nelson. (Valley Press, Apr. 8, 1987) There is further information about it in the Valley Press, July 1, 1987. Current information about Camp Joy is on the website 2010, which gives the telephone number, 338-3651, but not the address, which is 131 Camp Joy Road, Boulder Creek 95006, the address, with the same telephone number, of Jim Nelson (2010 White Pages)

» Christ Circle. Community, Boulder Creek, 1974-1978?

On 160 acres at the end of King's Creek Road, land which was formerly the Satori Conference Center and which was bought in 1974, this commune consisted in 1977 of 29 adults and 26 children, and it had its own school for the children. It came under scrutiny for being built without permits and for operating an unlicensed group home for children, and it filed for bankruptcy in 1976. It acquired the reputation of being a cult and it had disappeared by 1983. (The Valley Press, Jan. 19, 1977; the SC Sentinel, Feb. 25, 1977; May 18, 1978; Jan. 25, 1983)

» Agricultural Land Conservancy. Community, Santa Cruz County, 1974-1991

On 120 acres near Branciforte Creek bought in 1974, later enlarged to 230 acres, a communal group gradually evolved into a partnership, with members living in separate houses and working outside the property. (SC Sentinel, Nov. 10, 1991) I have no further information about it.

Communes founded since the 1960s counterculture

I am not aware of intentional communities formed in Santa Cruz County since 1975. The one religious group mentioned below seems to emphasize social, although not physical, community.

» New Beginnings With God. Felton, 1997-2010.

This group, which was founded in 1997, states that it has no church building, but that it meets in members' homes, which are in Felton, Scotts Valley, and Boulder Creek. In addition to this community aspect, its website stressed the Bible and personal devotion to Jesus. ( - this website was operative in 2007, but not in 2010) The contact telephone number is 335-4250. (2010 Yellow Pages under "Non Denominational")

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