Holy Land USA, Waterbury

July, 2016 by Ray Bendici

The Damned Story: We've all seen it while driving along either Route 8 or I-84 through Waterbury: the huge cross high atop Pine Hill. Many already know about it, but the 50-foot high cross marks the spot that was once was—and once again may be—Holy Land USA.

Like a biblical epic, there have been times of triumph and times of despair for this destination. Even though more recently the 18-acre park has suffered through decades of disrepair, there was a time in the 1960s and 70s when the attraction drew 40,000 visitors per year—picture a Wally World for the religious faithful, without a Tilt-a-Whirl. After receiving a message from his god in the 1950s, local attorney John Greco singlehandedly created the park as an homage to the Holy Land in Israel, fashioning miniature versions of Bethlehem and Jerusalem from chicken wire, plywood, fiberglass and plaster as well as adding dioramas of other key biblical locales. By the time he was done, he had created over 200 unique structures.

Holy Land USA officially closed in 1984. ("Sorry kids, Holy Land is closed. The messiah out front should have told you.") The park, left by Greco in his will to an order of nuns (the Religious Teachers Fillipini), was officially closed to the public, but the curious—and the vandals—still made pilgrimages. When we visited in 2009, most of the displays and exhibits were either crumbling or in complete ruin, yet there was something about the slow decline of the place that continues to make it compelling.

In April 2008, the old iconic neon cross was taken down and replaced with a shorter, more durable one, although it didn't light up quite like the old one. I guess you could say the spirit had gone out of the place.

Tragically in July 2010, a 16-year-old girl was raped and murdered on the grounds, prompting tighter security.

In June 2013, former Waterbury mayor Neil O'Leary and car dealer Fred "Fritz" Blasius purchased the property from the Filippini Sisters for $350,000. The pair announced that they were going refurbish the park and run it once again as a tourist attraction. To that end, a new illuminated cross was erected in November 2013, and the grounds were spruced up a bit.

As it turns, the effort to officially re-open Holy Land USA has fallen by the wayside in recent years, so the parks still sits empty.

However, the giant cross continues to light the darkness of the valley each night, standing silent vigil to one man's grand dream.

 

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Our Damned Experience: As mentioned, we made the pilgrimage to Holy Land USA in April 2009, and after getting permission to visit from the nuns of the order who owned the property at the time, were able to roam about freely and take as many pictures as we like. And being photo freaks, we snapped away to our hearts’ content—see the gallery below. 

As we expected, Holy Land was in a state of great disrepair. Many of the faded structures were either crumbling or had been destroyed by vandals, creating an almost literal post-apocalyptic feel, what with the religious overtones and all. Broken mortar, splintered beams, smashed walls and exposed chicken wire littered the site—along with a lot of actual litter. Seeing the site was a bit of a disjointed shamble to start with, the ensuing deterioration hadn’t helped any.

Despite how decrepit it was, it was hard to not be impressed at the fevered effort Greco must have expended bringing his religious vision to life. Many of the small-scale buildings and shrines were randomly grouped together, and it was clear he gave a lot of attention to detail. With how many structures there were and how much of the hillside it encompasses, it was sort of amazing and weird at the same time to consider that it was all the work of one person. 

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At the top of the hill to north were three crosses representing Cavalry Hill, while a short distance to the south and looming over all of Holy Land was the aforementioned second shiny cross. It wasn't as big as the original, and it was a bit harder to see from various points down in the valley (such as Route 8 or I-84). It was still impressive in its own right. The view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill was also impressive.

As you might think, it was bittersweet to see such a wonderfully weird place as Holy Land USA in that state of ruin—without a doubt, it must’ve been quite a moving sight in its heyday.

If You Go: Holy Land is on Slocum Road in Waterbury. Even with the recent redemption effort, it's still not open to the public. 

 

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Comments

Yes I hope the offer goes through Frank. We met many years ago but I cannot picture you then from your recent photographs. I hope the property can be used as a service to the community.

FRANK HAVE YOU TRIED ANY OF THE CROWD SOURCING FINANCING TECHNIQUES. IF YOU WOULD LIKE I MAY BE OF ASSISTANCE. IT DOES NOT COST ANYTHING AND IT IS POSSIBLE TO GAIN BACKERS, HELPERS, ADVERTISEMENT, AND GOOD NOTERIETY. THERE ARE A FEW SITES YOU CAN CROWDSOURCE ON. LET ME KNOW ABOUT THE DEAL!

Submitted by jess (not verified) on
please fix holy land. the guy who built it must have trusted the nuns but what happened so that it would be left to rot?

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
TO ALL HOLY LAND SUPPORTERS , I HAVE OFFERED WHAT I CONSIDER A FAIR PRICE FOR HOLY LAND , UP INTO THE HIGH MID $200,000 . ALL OFFERS WERE REFUSED . COME TO PASS THEY EVEN DENIED THAT A HOLY SHRINE EVER EXISTED THERE!! I DONT WANT TO GIVE UP , BUT I AM SICK OF GETTING MY HEAD HANDED TO ME EVERY TIME I DEAL WITH THE SISTERS. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL AND I WILL TRY ONLY ONCE MORE THIS YEAR , WITH THE LORD IN MIND. TXS FRANK

Frank for purchase and publicity which may coerce the Sisters to cooperate check out: http://mashable.com/2010/09/14/social-good-fund-online/ Crowd sourcing may be the best way to get your world out. Let me know what you intend to do with the Holy Land after you buy it!

The Catholics have plenty of money.... It should be a donation to a non profit Frank. Are you a Non Profit?

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
JACK, I HAVE MY ATTY. READY TO FILE FOR A NEW NP . THE LAWS HAVE CHANGED SO WE NEED TO KEEP UP DATED. THE CHURCH WILL NOT GIVE MONEY , I HAVE BEEN DOWN THAT ROAD SEVERAL YEARS AGO. MAYBE THINGS WILL CHANGE . FIRST WE NEED TO HAVE HOLY LAND , THEN ALL GOOD THINGS WILL HAPPEN

Jack Tar http://www.AmericanWop.com WOP@AmericanWop.com I hope the best happens to the Waterbury area and I can genuinely say I am sorry about all the graft and corruption. I have heard over a centuries worth of information about the area which I am attempting to publish. If anyone has anything at all to say about Waterbury along with the HOLY LAND please feel free to tell me at the above address. Looking forward to hearing anything!

Submitted by Roy (not verified) on
Is this place still around? I've heard rumors of it being bought out by developers.

Read the above posts and visit http://www.AmericanWop.com

Submitted by Steve Lynn (not verified) on
Leave the cross and the area around it and we will be str8

Submitted by Ann E (not verified) on
Pet Peeve Time: Cavalry (as in "Cavalry Hill" in the article above): Cavalry refers to armed horsemen riding to the rescue... Here comes the Cavalry... in old movies. The hill where Christ was crucified is Calvary.

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
HI, EVERYONE WE ARE BACK AGAIN READY TO BUY HOLY LAND AND REDO IT 100% I WILL KEEP YOU ALL UPDATED . WE NEED HELP IF WE GO FOWARD , ARE YOU ALL READY TO HELP AND FIGHT FOR HOLY LAND?? LET ME KNOW!!!

Let us pray. Thanks for the update. Let's get her done.

Submitted by Bella (not verified) on
Steve Chloe is not there anymore and neither is her spirit let them take down the evil and purify the land

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
Sorry , everyone got out bid for Holy Land. But the good thing is it will be protected and saved. Its not impt. who does it but that it gets done. i dont know if they will do it as we all would have , we will have to wait and see. Please help if they ask , its gods work and john G willbe happy . Txs for all your support , I am working on another project , i will let you know soon. FRANK

Submitted by Devinne (not verified) on
Hello all, I am making a student documentary about Holy Land and I would love to meet personally, or hear any stories you have about Holy Land. I am looking into the purchase of Holy Land and the history. I am interested in all information concerning renovating/ reopening Holy Land. I am interested in opinions about the disrepair of Holy Land and the project to reinstall the neon cross. Please contact me if you would like more information or if you would like to meet with me. I appreciate it. Any story would be much appreciated. (Does anyone know Frank Davino's contact information). Thanks, Devinne :) My email: dg7855@bard.edu

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF YOU WHO WANT TO CONTACT ME DIRECTLY. YOU CAN AT FRANKD@CARPIN .COM, WEB SITE IS FRANK DAVINO .COM, PHONE 203 233 2519 [CELL]. ALSO A NEW HOLY LAND DOCUMENTARY I WAS INTERVIEWED FOR YOU CAN SEE AT HTTPS:II VIMEO.COM/74419818, PASSWORD IS FRANK SMALL LETTERS. HOLY LAND IS KEY TO THE PEOPLE OF WATERBURY, I HAVE RECCOMENDED IT BE REHABED FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS . ALWAYS SUPPORT HOLY LAND , I DO!!! TXS FRANK

Submitted by Omayra (not verified) on
Hi folks, I just wanted to say that I grew up with Holy Land as my backyard. It was a quick walk through the woods that surround it and we would come out at the big letters. As a child, the buses bringing people from all over the northeast would wake me. You could hear singing and there would be processions going through our neighborhood. There were blueberry bushes everywhere and I would go picking with my family. To this day, blueberries bring me back to Holy Land. It was beautiful and people loved it. I was heartbroken that someone was killed there. I'm sure many awful things have taken place there but my memories are of an amazing childhood.

Submitted by Steve (not verified) on
Omayra they are renovating Holy Land now, new cross is going up and its getting a makeover.

Submitted by george (not verified) on
If you want to feel something spiritual , Then visit holy land in Florida for all the right reasons. You will get 1000 more positive effects from that place. You will never be the same. It's a shame that such a beloved place has fallen into such disrepair and exploited by curiosity seekers. For the sake of the Town, the nunnery should donate it to a non profit Christian Org. so they can rehabilitate it the same way they did with the Palace Theater. If you want evil just look all around you, there is no reason to go to Waterbury. Put your energy in to something more positive, like help the homeless or caring for the elderly. Being a productive member of society has is more rewarding.

WHERE IS THE STAINLESS STEEL CROSS THE SISTER PUT UP IN HOLY LAND NOT SO LONG AGO. COST WAS 275.00 , HOPE THEY DID NOT SCRAP IT !!!!! IT WOULD LOOK GREAT ON THR FAR EAST SIDE OF HOLY LAND. NEW CROSS LOOKS GREAT , SAME SIZE A ORIGINAL , WHERE IS THE CROSS , SOME ONE FIND OUT , LET ME KNOW, TXS FRANK DAVINO

In my opinion , the city of Waterbury with it own beauty , need to attract visitors , because it will increases the economy . The Holy Land , can bring people and it create , job and brings back the city to life . right now the unemployment rate is 13% . As the great Adventure is for New Jersey , The Holy Land can be for Waterbury . There might be investors , if the doors were open .

I AGREE , BUT IN ORDER TO MAKE PEOPLE WANT TO VISIT AS THEY DID BEFORE HOLY LAND NEEDS TO REHABED AND REBUILT AS A WHOLE UNIT NOT JUST A CROSS. OUR PLAN WAS TO DO JUST THAT. A FIVE YEAR PLAN WITH A COST OF OVER $5,000,000.

Submitted by Bryan B (not verified) on
They put up new cross that changes color, a couple months back. Better than the old one, and had a lighting of the cross where all were invited. It was good times. The South End isnt as bad as people make it out to be.I've lived in Waterbury my whole life and have never had a problem in the South End. The section is predominately hispanic. The police have done a tremendous job cleaning up the area, and getting the dealers off the corners. If your looking for trouble, trouble will find you in the South End, but if you mind your own business your more than likely to be fine. Just dont go alone, and keep your eyes open.

Submitted by Chelsea (not verified) on
Is it still off limits to the public? Even if you call the nuns and ask permission?

Submitted by Bryd2 (not verified) on
Are the nuns still not letting people in? And what do they do to you if they catch you trespassing?

Submitted by Trevor Kroemer (not verified) on
There is a new project in the works to rehab Holy Land. The full details are limited, but opening it up to the public is the plan. Here is the website established by the new owners. http://www.holylandwaterbury.com/

Submitted by Rodney Miller (not verified) on
Greco didn't build the cross. Joseph Jannetty did. Greco just funded it.

Submitted by bella (not verified) on
RIP Chloe

Submitted by keara (not verified) on
Hello, I am wondering if the nuns are allowing access again? I would like to come on Saturday afternoon to take some photos. Please contact me at keara507@ gmail .com if you have information. Thank you, Keara

Submitted by bella (not verified) on
No access to get into holy land ,there is a security camera and countless others on the property right as you drive in and one camera right at the gate,you will get arrested

Submitted by bella (not verified) on
No access to get into holy land ,there is a security camera and countless others on the property right as you drive in and one camera right at the gate,you will get arrested

Submitted by Lindsey (not verified) on
A friend and I were here a few months back.... We parked right at the entrance behind another car. I had read on other sites that the nuns may or may not give us permission. I knocked on the door of what looked like the main building and rang the doorbell. After a few silent minutes we decided to go right in. In and out, no problems. As we were leaving, a truck drove up to the gate, unlocked it, drove it, and relocked it. Seemed to be maintenance

Submitted by Lindsey (not verified) on
A friend and I were here a few months back.... We parked right at the entrance behind another car. I had read on other sites that the nuns may or may not give us permission. I knocked on the door of what looked like the main building and rang the doorbell. After a few silent minutes we decided to go right in. In and out, no problems. As we were leaving, a truck drove up to the gate, unlocked it, drove it, and relocked it. Seemed to be maintenance

Submitted by JamieAnn Curtis... (not verified) on
I loved going there as a child, with my now deceased, Grandmother: Louise Rose Giannini'Daniels. it was my favorite place to go with her, i miss them both.

Submitted by JamieAnn Curtis... (not verified) on
I loved going there as a child, with my now deceased, Grandmother: Louise Rose Giannini'Daniels. it was my favorite place to go with her, i miss them both.

Submitted by JamieAnn Curtis... (not verified) on
I loved going there as a child, with my now deceased, Grandmother: Louise Rose Giannini'Daniels. it was my favorite place to go with her, i miss them both.

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