U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge have announced that the National Park Service has listed the Holy City of the Wichitas Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Listing on the National Register provides recognition to eligible historic properties and assists in preserving cultural heritage through tax credits, specialized support and grant opportunities.
On April 4, 1926, the Rev. Anthony Mark Wallock (1890–1948), an Austrian immigrant raised in Chicago, initiated an Easter service and dramatic production with a cast of five. It was held on privately held land on a hillside south of Medicine Park.
The service drew 200 visitors the first year and 500 the second. The play quickly grew into a large, traditional passion play, attracting thousands of spectators each year.
Wallock attended Chicago University and Garrett Biblical Institute, Evansville, Ind., before accepting leadership of Lawton’s Congregational Church in 1924.
In 1930, approximately 6,000 people witnessed the pageant. Oklahoma City’s WKY radio broadcast the production live in 1936, and it was carried nationwide on two hundred stations.
By the late 1930s the event annually drew more than 100,000 observers. American theaters showed newsreel footage, and in 1937 the U.S. government produced a full-length film of the pageant.
In 1949, Hallmark Productions released a color movie titled “The Lawton Story,” featuring the Easter pageant. The film premiered in Lawton.
Backed by federal grants from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Holy City of the Wichitas was constructed inside the refuge, five miles west of its original location. As many as 200 local men were employed by the WPA for the construction providing much-needed relief during the Great Depression.
A dedication ceremony in 1935 commemorated the completion of numerous full-sized buildings and structures, including the temple court, Pilate’s judgment hall, Calvary’s Mount, the Garden of Gethsemane, watch towers, rock shrines and perimeter walls. By the next year WPA workers had built the Lord’s Supper building, Herod’s Court, a chapel and other amenities.
Locally quarried granite was used for the buildings and structures. The chapel replicated Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., which George Washington had attended. Murals by artist Irene Malcolm adorn the chapel’s ceiling and walls. It has been the site of numerous weddings.
A granite monument on the grounds celebrates the life and achievements of Myron C. Groseclose (1902-1955), the designer of the Holy City of the Wichitas. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Groseclose said, “The Holy City is the only religious project in the United States being completed with government funds.”
After the project was completed, Groseclose appeared in the cast of the Easter pageant for many years. He is buried in the Waurika Cemetery.
The 150-acre site of the Holy City of the Wichitas is leased from the federal government by the Wichita Mountains Easter Pageant Association, a private organization.
In 1975, the Holy City dedicated an 11-foot-tall, white marble statue titled “Christ of the Wichitas” in memory of the Rev. Wallock. In 1981 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit, demanding removal of religious items from federal land. A federal judge dismissed the case. In September 1995 a memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing was dedicated at the site.
Today, the Holy City is managed under a special use permit by the Wallock Foundation, which pursued listing with the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office. The Holy City of the Wichitas Historic District is approximately 14.3 acres located about seven miles west of Medicine Park on Oklahoma 49 in the eastern portion of the refuge.