Desert Christ Park was established in 1951 on the original five acres where the Evangelical Free Church now resides. The property at the time was owned by the Reverend Eddie Garver, a humble preacher who made his way to Yucca Valley with his wife an two children in 1946. He established the Yucca Valley Community Church, then located at Santa Fe and Apache Trail, and acquired the five acres on the southern facing slope of the valley from the US Government in 1950. Known as the Desert Parson, his vision was to establish a christian-themed park as a light for world peace.
Through a series of events, Eddie Garver was introduced to Frank Antone Martin, a sculptor-poet from Inglewood, CA. An engineer by trade, who came up with the idea to create statues out of steel-reinforced concrete, Martin's dream was to place his 10 foot, 5-ton 'resurrected Christ' on the rim of the Grand Canyon as a symbol of peace to all mankind. When separation of church and state issues denied his request, he labeled the statue as "the unwanted Christ" and spoke to several organizations before settling on Eddie Garver's offer to place it on a hill where all could see.
One week before Easter 1951, the "unwanted Christ" was brought up the desert highway from Los Angeles on the back of a truck. This event sparked national interest and was covered start to finish by *Life Magazine for their April 23, 1951 issue. Desert Christ Park was dedicated on Easter Sunday and celebrated by the community it embraced.
The following year, in 1952, Martin was invited back to be the guest speaker at sunrise services and decided to move to the area permanently and create more statues for the Park. He formed a non-profit *corporation with the Garvers and for the next 10 years, Martin created several more biblical figures, including a three-story, 125 ton facade depicting 'The Last Supper.' The original placement of these statues were in the area of what is now the Evangelical Free Church outdoor theater. In fact, when this amphitheater was dedicated in 1962, it was billed as "The Desert Christ Park" amphitheater.
The partnership dissolved in the late 1950s and the statues that could be moved were relocated to the present day Park. Eddie Garver sold his property to local parishioners, the Brownells, who later donated the property, including their home on the hill, to the Evangelical Free Church. Thus, the original statue, the "unwanted Christ," the tomb, and half of 'The Last Supper' remains on church property. The Garver's moved on to missions in Arizona, and Antone Martin died in 1961.
The Park remained a focal point of Yucca Valley for several more years, and many believed the Park belonged to the "church next door." A photo of a sitting Christ, with his arm outstretched, beckoning the little children to come to Him, graced the cover pages of the 1969 Yucca Valley High School year book, The ILLION.
Today the Park is operated and maintained by the Desert Christ Park Foundation and a governing Board of five. Funding is solely through donations and grants and all members are volunteers. Though bearing the scars of time and weather, it is still visited by thousands of people each year and remains an icon of the southern California desert community of Yucca Valley. It is the perfect place for weddings, picnics, photo ops, or a walk through the Bible - or to just come and drink your morning coffee.
Whatever your choice, the stark white slurry statues press against the desert sky in vivid detail and continue to remind us of the rich historic heritage that is California and The Christ, who "came to give life, and give it more abundantly." John 10:10.
*Check out the original Articles of Incorporation and LIFE Magazine article on the NEWS & EVENTS page.
Frank Antone Martin
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LATE RUTH LONG
The History of Desert Christ Park
The Reverend Eddie Garver
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LATE RUTH LONG
A Museum of Sculptures
"...as much as lieth within you...live peacefully with all men..." Romans 12:18