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Haight-Ashbury: Summer Of Love, 1967
In the mid-1960s, San Francisco exploded with a counterculture movement. A tremendous spontaneous expression of youthful enthusiasm, loving life, allied with opposition to the Vietnam War, attracted an estimated 100,000 young people to San Francisco. More than ten years earlier, in the early 1950’s, another counter-cultural movement, also against materialism and conformism, called the ‘Beat Generation’ had flourished in North Beach. By 1967 the so-called ‘Hippies’ (an iteration of ‘Hipster’, which was a ‘beatnik’ term from the 1950s) had based themselves in the formerly working-class neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury. While the hippie phenomenon arose in many cities, San Francisco became its epicenter. This was the backdrop to the Summer of Love, in 1967.
The practical draw to the neighborhood were the cheap rents, made even more inexpensive by the small, sub-divided apartments and the communal living arrangements of many. The aesthetic draw was that Haight-Ashbury was a compact, close-knit community of exquisite Victorian houses, bordered by three of San Francisco’s most beautiful parks. These parks would become the focus of the Summer of Love.
The immediate precursor to the Summer of Love was the massive Human Be-In, in January 1967 and the earlier, smaller, Love Pageant Rally, in October 1966. Both events were held in Golden Gate Park, which bounds Haight-Ashbury to the west, and were attended by tens of thousands of people. They were inspired by opposition to the War in Vietnam, New Left political consciousness and a belief in the efficacy of psychedelic drugs. It was at the Human Be-In that Timothy Leary coined the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” which almost became the slogan of the hippie generation, signaling its aversion to middle class morality and belief in political decentralization. “Dropping out” has since passed into the universal lexicon.
So, What Was the Summer of Love?
It was basically a series of spontaneous assemblies, anti-Vietnam War protests, guerrilla theatrical performances, massive music concerts and other psychedelic-drug-fueled gatherings throughout the summer of 1967. It was a brief utopian experiment, testing the edges of conventional morality, conservative costume and grooming, and the staid life of the previous generation. It was also about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out to some fantastic music, by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, the Doors and the Byrds.
The Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, was established to help the many visitors taking LSD for the first time, some of whom experienced bad trips, and it still operates. Today serving more than 34,000 patients annually, “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege” was, and still is, its motto. Much of its financing has come from donations by successful 60’s bands.
The Diggers of Haight-Ashbury were a group that named themselves after an English socialist-utopian movement of the mid-seventeenth century, that envisioned a society free of money and private property. Between 1966 and 1968 the Diggers provided clothing, lodging, medical care and food, absolutely free of charge to all. They also once drove a bus full of semi-naked belly dancers through the Financial District, inviting stock-brokers to come aboard and forget their work, so they certainly knew how to have fun. Every day they fed a hundred or so people donated food and homemade bread, but by 1968 their efforts were being overwhelmed by the mass of new arrivals to the neighborhood.
End of the Summer of Love
Sadly, by the end of 1967, the sweetness of the Summer of Love had begun to sour. Yet evermore naive young people flooded into the neighborhood to join a party that had ended. Some saw the decay before others. On October 6, 1967, Haight residents staged a mock funeral entitled ‘The Death of the Hippie’. Organizer Mary Kasper intended “to signal that this was the end of it, to stay where you are, bring the revolution to where you live and don’t come here because it’s over and done with”.
And, many were done with it. Some resumed university studies, others made their way home or joined the ‘back to the land movement’ that arose in the 1970’s, forming and joining communes or cooperatives. Still others took the Summer of Love’s spirit and idealism into more mature expression.
In addition to marijuana and LSD, more dangerous drugs like speed and heroin invaded Utopia, and the Free Clinic struggled to keep up with the bad trips and overdoses. The music icons were not exempt. In September 1970, 27 year-old Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose of barbiturates. Janis Joplin died in October 1970, also at 27, of a heroin overdose. Jerry Garcia (of the Grateful Dead) continually struggled with drug addiction for the remainder of his life, passing away in a California drug treatment clinic in 1995.
Other harmful and malevolent influences seeped into Haight-Ashbury. Some Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members lived just across the street from Garcia’s apartment, and Joplin’s was a few doors down. The Angels’ primary hobbies were drinking, fighting and revving their Harley “hawgs,” all of which were entirely at odds with the peace and love ethos of the hippies.
The infamous Charles Manson, so-called hippie cult leader, played guitar for tips on Haight Street, while gathering his small tribe of young women. Some would later participate in nine murders in the Los Angeles area in July and August of 1969.
And then, there were the hucksters and the appropriators, the greedy and the selfish. Each group would co-opt the hippie movement for their own commercial or personal gain.
Ah, the music! Once counter-cultural, it’s now conventional. Much of the 60’s music plays on almost sixty years later, the sounds of the era supporting many advertising and film soundtracks. The artists that survived are now senior citizens. Their music’s “staying power” has allowed some to sell their music catalogs for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Amoeba Music, a huge music store, now occupies the old 24,000 square foot Park Bowling Alley at the corner of Haight and Stanyan Streets. While it stocks plenty of digital – audio and visual – a tremendous amount of its inventory are historic vinyl recordings.
Turning on, tuning in – but not dropping out – through the 1970’s and 80’s and 90’s helped produce positive gains in environmentalism, the peace movement, gender and race equality and, notably, led to improvements in healthcare. The concept of healthcare as not a privilege, but a right has become widespread.
Haight-Ashbury still wears a little of the costume of the 1960’s and Haight Street is a carnival of murals. Three iconic faces from the Summer of Love are much represented: Garcia, Joplin and Hendrix. Funky shops, restaurants and historical sites still offer some of the ‘Flower Power’ hippie vibe. To stroll through the Haight is to experience a beautiful, serene, largely intact 19th century Victorian neighborhood, with remnants of some of the best elements of the tumultuous 1960’s. Today it’s one of the loveliest slices of contemporary San Francisco.
We visit the neighborhood on our daily SF in a Day and Half Day SF City Highlights tours, including stopping for lunch on Haight Street itself, which has some great cafe’s and restaurants.
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– By Christofer Erin and Damien Blackshaw (Twitter)
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