San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District
Going to San Francisco
The Summer of Love was the summer of 1967, a defining period of the 1960s when people collectively labeled as the hippies gathered in many cities across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. San Francisco was the center of the hippie movement during the Summer of Love. Up to 100,000 people came to the movement's Ground Zero, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco.
"The Haight" was filled with music, psychoactive drugs, sexual experimentation and political extremism. The area became closely associated with several significant bands and individual musicians including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix.
Haight Street runs straight east from the east end of Golden Gate Park and Stanyan Street. Ashbury Street is a north-south street crossing Haight about six blocks from its western end.
Meanwhile, many other cities like Detroit were filled with race riots and insurrections in what was also known as the Long, Hot Summer.
The term "Haight-Ashbury district" is generally used to describe an area bounded on its west by Golden Gate Park, on its north by Oak Street, on its east by Baker Street and the steep slopes of Buena Vista Park, and on its south by Frederick Street.
Locals call the district the Upper Haight, distinguishing it from the Lower Haight or the Haight-Fillmore district.
William Lange was the first person to settle in the area, when he established a dairy farm in 1870. The area was nothing but a few isolated farms among large sand dunes until 1883. That year saw the completion of the Haight Street Cable Railroad, connecting the area to the busy Market Street line leading through downtown San Francisco.
The area became an upper-middle-class residential area through the 1890s and early 1900s. Its location spared it from the enormous fires caused by the great earthquake of 1906.
The depression hit the entire city hard through the 1930s, including the Upper Haight. Many of the families left for smaller and more affordable homes.
World War II and the associated naval construction and operations in the Bay Area brought a housing crunch to San Francisco. Many of the large multi-story Victorian homes were converted from single-family dwellings into apartments or boarding houses.
Many of the houses were left vacant after the end of the war, and the area declined through the 1950s. A public fight over a proposed freeway that would have run through the neighborhood lasted from the late 1950s until 1966. The threat of the freeway further dropped property values.
The neighborhood became a low-rent Bohemia through the 1960s and into the 1970s. The hippie subculture sprang up in Haight-Ashbury, and to a limited extent, still remains.
Let's start our walk down Haight Street.
We'll start at its west end, where it tees into Stanyan Street along the east end of Golden Gate Park.
Skates on Haight is near the west end of Haight, across from the famous Amoeba Music store.
We're crossing Shrader Street and continuing east along the south side of Haight.
The Haight Street Cable Railroad disappeared long ago. Today the Muni buses 71, 71L, and 7 connect Haight-Ashbury to Market Street and its busy streetcar lines. Muni bus 6 also runs to and from Market, although it turns off on Parnassus.
At Market Street you can walk south along Mission Street into the Mission District. Or, you can take a street car or one of several bus lines northeast along Market Street to the Embarcadero, the waterfront along San Francisco Bay.
Haight-Ashbury is no longer a counter-cultural place. Other than a few smoke shops and Himalayan-themed places, it's largely high-end boutiques and vintage clothing stores, hip restaurants, and fashionable cafes.
The San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate has a good guide to Haight-Ashbury with a comprehensive list of restaurants, cafes, shops, and more.
Colorful murals decorate some buildings, like this one on the side of Frank's Liquors at the corner of Haight and Cole.
We are approaching the crossing of Belvedere Street.
See the sign for a business named Cheap Thrills, named for the 1968 album by Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Janis Joplin.
Here are more Victorian buildings with rounded and segmented fronts.
They extend slightly over the sidewalk below, providing a little more interior space than the foundation outline.
Their angled windows provide more light and better views to either side.
We're crossing Clayton Street, we're just one block west of Ashbury.
This is it, the intersection of Haight and Ashbury. We're looking at the northwest corner of the intersection, across it and on down the hill on Ashbury. That leads toward the panhandle of Golden Gate Park extending several blocks to the east of the main body of the park, parallel to Haight Street and forming the north edge of the Haight-Ashbury district.
Here's proof that this is no longer a counter-cultural area: the northeast corner of the Haight-Ashbury intersection is home to a Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop.
At least it's not a Gap or a Benneton.
Turning back to our original direction of travel, to the east, we continue across Ashbury on Haight.
The block between Ashbury and Masonic features a large pair of legs protruding from the second floor.
The Magnolia Pub and Brewery is on the northeast corner of Haight and Masonic.
The burlesque performer Patricia Donna Mallon (1940-1996) took the stage name of Magnolia Thunderpussy.
She also operated two restaurants. One of them was here, at 1398 Haight Street. One of her specialties was desserts created in erotic designs.
David McLean founded the Magnolia brewpub where her restaurant had been located, naming it after her. It's been a brewpub since 1997.
And here I had thought it was a reference to the Grateful Dead's song Sugar Magnolia....
No, they didn't write that song about the burlesque performer. It's said to have been written about Bob Weir's long-time girlfriend, Frankie.
The song was on their 1970 American Beauty album, and was the second most frequently played song in their concerts.
The brewpub does has a Grateful Dead vibe.
Jimi Hendrix, one of the greatest electric guitar artists in history, lived at 1524 Haight Street for a while before his untimely death in 1970.
His apartment was above what is now the Ashbury Smoke Shop.
The neon in their window makes a bit of a purple haze.
The Grateful Dead in Haight-Ashbury
The Grateful Dead lived in the house at #710 Ashbury Street, just a block and a half up the hill from Haight. It's the purple house, just to the left of the streetlight pole in this picture.
The house was constructed in 1890 by the building contractors Cranston and Keenan. The Cranston of that firm was the grandfather of former U.S. Senator Alan Cranston. Cranston and Keenan built a large number of homes in the Upper Haight in the 1890s and 1900s. The homes sold for around $7,000, a considerable price then.
I read somewhere that Shakedown Street, their 1978 studio album, was named for Haight Street. But then I've also read that it's a term for the vendors' tent area at an outdoor music festival. Given that the album didn't come out until 1978, long after they moved away from here, I would go with the second explanation.
At any rate, the band lived in this Victorian house during the Summer of Love. It has since been very nicely renovated.
Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh had been brought together for a performance on The Midnight Special on KPFA-Berkeley in 1964.
The Grateful Dead formed in early 1965 from the remnants of a Palo Alto jug band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, playing an eclectic combination of rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass, country, blues, and more. They initially called themselves The Warlocks, but then changed their name to The Grateful Dead at a performance on December 4, 1965, at one of Ken Kesey's Acid Tests in Palo Alto.
The charter members were: Jerry Garcia on banjo and guitar, Bob Weir on guitar, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on organ, Phil Lesh on bass, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums.
The lineup in the summer of 1967 would have still been the same.
Mickey Hart joined as a second percussionist in September of 1967, and Tom Constanten joined as a second keyboard player in November of 1968.
The Hell's Angels in Haight-Ashbury
The Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club was based in a house at #719 Ashbury, just across the street from the Grateful Dead's house.
Both Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga and Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test describe the Hell's Angels presence in this area in the late 1960s.
Thompson's book is pretty harrowing, as he describes how he seemed to have made genuine friends with a number of them but then was savagely beaten with no warning. Of the Angels he wrote:
And, regarding their mystique:
There was a notice posted at the time of my visit about an apartment for rent, featuring motorcycle parking. I don't know whether they were being ironic or simply marketing the apartment's features.
Jefferson Airplane in Haight-Ashbury
The members of Jefferson Airplane also shared a house in the area. Their rather palatial home was at #2400 Fulton Street, along the north side of Golden Gate Park. It's just a couple of blocks down from the northeast corner of the park.
The house had been built around 1904 by a member of the family owning the large Vance Lumber Company of Eureka, California. The 17-room mansion had mahogany wood paneling from India, wooden furniture from Santo Domingo, crystal chandeliers, tapestry wallpaper, a stained-glass window on the second floor, and eight fireplaces.
The original owner sold the house in the 1930s to his niece, Mrs. T.E. Connolly. The house remained in the Connolly family until the late spring or early summer of 1968, when the owner and occupant was a man in his eighties or nineties. He sold the house to the group for $70,000.
The house came to be known as The Airplane House and The Mansion. The group installed a 4-track recording studio in the basement, and it was also the site of some epic parties.
The band titled a greatest hits collection released in 1987 2400 Fulton Street in memory of the place.
The lineup in 1968 included: Marty Balin and Grace Slick on vocals, Paul Kantner on guitar, Jorma Kaukonen on guitar, Spencer Dryden on drums, and Jack Casady on bass.
Hunter S. Thompson in Haight-Ashbury
Hunter S. Thompson lived in the Haight-Ashbury area from 1965 to 1967. He wrote an article for Time magazine in 1967 titled "The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies"; it is reprinted in The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time and contains this passage:
Thompson lived in an apartment at #318 Parnassus Avenue. Some of the events in his book Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga occurred here, and it is mentioned in some other essays.
Parnassus runs parallel to Haight Street, about five blocks to its south. Thompson's home is two blocks south of the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park.
We're looking east in the second view, down the hill on Parnassus past Thompson's apartment.
Also see my pictures from New York of the places HST lived in the 1960s.
Thompson continued in that Time article:
And it was all true. Most hippies are too drug oriented to feel any sense of urgency beyond the moment. Their slogan is "Now," and that means instantly. Unlike political activists of any stripe, hippies have no coherent vision of the future which might or might not exist. The hippies are afflicted by an enervating sort of fatalism that is, in fact, deplorable. And the New Left critics are heroic, in their fashion, for railing at it. But the awful possibility exists that the hippies may be right, that the future itself is deplorable and so why not live for Now? Why not reject the whole fabric of American society, with all its obligations, and make a separate peace? The hippies believe they are asking this question for a whole generation and echoing the doubts of an older generation.
Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army in Haight-Ashbury
Patty Hearst is the grand-daughter of the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. In 1974 she was a sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, held captive, possibly brainwashed, and involved in two bank robberies.
The SLA was a far-left-wing urban militant group that saw itself as a revolutionary vanguard army. They committed some bank robberies and two murders, took one side in the largest police shootout ever, and were involved in other violent acts.
The SLA considered themselves leaders of the Black Revolution. This was despite the unconvenient fact that their only black member was their founder, Donald DeFreeze (a.k.a. "General Field Marshal Cinque"), who had been serving five to fifteen years in prison for robbing a prostitute.
The SLA had formed as the result of prison visitation programs of radical left-wing organizations. DeFreeze escaped from prison (by walking away from a work program outside the perimeter), and became the new group's leader.
They lifted the ancient Sri Lankan / Indian seven-headed nagā or cobra symbol, and made up a set of seven principals complete with Swahili equivalents: Unity / Umoja, Self-determination / Kujichagulia, Collective work and responsibility / Ujima, Cooperative economics / Ujamaa, Purpose / Nia, Creativity / Kuumba, and Faith / Imani.
In November 1973, two SLA members killed Oakland school superintendent Marcus Foster and severely wounded his deputy Robert Blackburn. This was somehow meant to forward the SLA's Black Revolution agenda, although Foster was popular among both the black community and the political left.
The two SLA assassins had been arrested. The SLA's plan was to kidnap an important figure to force the release of their members. On February 4, 1974, they kidnapped Patty Hearst from the Berkeley apartment she shared with her fiancé Steven Weed. As the daughter of the Hearst newspaper empire, this would maximize the news coverage.
The SLA first demanded that the Hearst family release their members from jail. When they finally realized that the Hearst family did not control the court system, they demanded a ransom in the form of a food distribution program. Their erratic demands varied from $4 million to $400 million worth of food.
Patty's father distributed $6 million worth of food to the poor of the Bay area, but the SLA then refused to release Patty as they deemed the food to have been of poor quality.
Meanwhile the SLA was holding Patty in a series of safe houses, including this one at #1235 Masonic, less than a block above its intersection with Haight. The house is the green one at center, behind the white truck. The entry, obscured in this view but visible below, is a porch with three adjacent doors for #1233, #1235, and #1237. This is one of the large single-family houses divided into multiple homes in the early 1900s.
By Day 13 of her imprisonment, February 17, Patty was heard extemporaneously expressing SLA ideology in recorded messages. On April 3 she announced on an audio tape that she had joined the Symbionese Liberation Army and had assumed the name "Tania", inspired by the nom de guerre of Che Guevara's comrade Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider.
On April 15 she was photographed wielding an M1 Carbine while the SLA robbed the Hibernia Bank at 1450 Noriega Street in San Francisco. At this point she not only had been convinced to join the SLA, but they had taught her enough Swahili to use that language while screaming commands at the terrified bank customers.
Unfortunately for the SLA, none of the Hibernia bank customers knew Swahili.
That was also unfortunate for those terrified bank customers, two of whom were shot during the robbery.
Some of the SLA moved to Los Angeles, where they relied on forcibly commandeering housing and supplies, thereby alienating the people who were to ensure their secrecy and protect them.
On May 16, two SLA members entered a suburban sporting goods store to shop for supplies. One of them decided on a whim to shoplift some socks. A security guard confronted them, one SLA member brandished a pistol, and the guard knocked the pistol from his hand while placing a handcuff on the wrist of the other.
Patty was the armed lookout in the group's van across the street, and she started shooting up the store's overhead sign. Everyone in the store dove for cover while the SLA members ran to the van. The group fled in the van and later abandoned it, providing the police with the address of their safehouse through a parking ticket left in the van's glovebox.
The group abandoned their current safehouse and took over a house being occupied by Christine Johnson and Minnie Lewisin. The next day, the LAPD received an anonymous call stating that several heavily armed people were staying in the caller's daughter's home.
More than 400 LAPD officers, plus members of the California Highway Patrol and the FBI, plus the Los Angeles Fire Department, surrounded the house at 1466 East 56th Street. A young child and an older man came out of the house. The man claimed that no one else was in the house, but the child corrected him and said that several people were in the house with weapons and ammunition belts.
The police fired tear gas canisters into the house, and its occupants opened up with automatic weapons fire. Heavy firing was exchanged in both directions.
The house caught fire two hours later. Three women who were not SLA members fled the house, two from the rear and one from the front. The woman fleeing from the front of the house had come in drunk the night before and passed out, only to wake up in the middle of a siege. That has to be disorienting.
The automatic weapons fire continued as the house burned. Thousands of rounds were fired in each direction (with none of those fired by the SLA striking anyone), making this one of the largest police shootouts in history. The remaining occupants of the house died from a mix of smoke inhalation, burns, and gunshot wounds. An official report concluded that Donald DeFreeze, the SLA's founder, had committed suicide. Family members noticed that he had been decapitated, which suggests either an unusually complicated suicide or some unrest between the SLA comrades.
The surviving SLA members, including Patty, returned to the San Francisco area and the protection of local radicals. They waited almost a year, and then on April 28, 1975 they robbed the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California, killing a bank customer.
Patty Hearst was finally captured on September 18, 1975. She initially claimed that the SLA had drugged her with LSD and forced her to take part in the bank robberies. Her first attorney planned to argue involuntary intoxication with a side effect of amnesia, due to how her reactions after capture were similar to her experiences taking LSD with her boyfriend Steven Weed.
The attorney who eventually handled her case, F. Lee Bailey, used an argument based on the Stockholm Syndrome. He claimed that she had been blindfolded and confined in a closet with barely enough room for her to lie down, her contact with the outside world was entirely controlled by her captors, she was regularly threatened with execution, and she was raped by DeFreeze and Willie "Cujo" Wolfe, both of whom had died in the Los Angeles siege.
The court-appointed physician said that the SLA had used a crude version of the classic Maoist formula for thought control, and that Patty was young and politically naïve enough to be at extreme risk. On the other hand, a physician considered to be an expert on "brain disorders, sex offenders, and high-profile mentally ill criminals" stated that she was "a rebel in search of a cause" and the robbery had been "an act of free will."
The red stairs lead to the house's entryway with its multiple doors. #1235, the SLA safe house, is through the center door. She had accurately described this apartment during a pre-trial interview, but without mentioning the small closet in which she was supposedly confined.
Patty Hearst was convicted of bank robbery on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment. Her sentence was immediately commuted to seven years. The prison term was entirely commuted by Jimmy Carter on February 1, 1979, after she had served 22 months. Bill Clinton's final formal act in office was to grant her a full pardon on January 20, 2001.
A few other SLA members became fugitives, going as far as Rhodesia and South Africa. Some of them remained at large until arrests in 1999 and 2002.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is large — 20% larger than New York's Central Park and about 5×0.8 km.
The park was created from what were sand dunes outside what were then the incorporated city boundaries. It was ostensibly created for recreation, but the city hoped to attract residential development and expand the city. The boom along Haight Street was the proof of the plan.
Trees were planted to stabilize what was mostly dunes at the time: mostly Monterey Pine, Monterey Cypress, and Blue Gum Eucalyptus.
There is a large formal Conservatory of Flowers, but large flower beds are found throughout the park.
The De Young Museum of fine arts and the California Academy of Sciences (a natural history museum) are also located in the park.
The Human Be-In was an event in Golden Gate Park in January of 1967.
It was announced as "A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In." The speakers included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Richard Alpert (later known more widely as Ram Dass).
Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service provided music, and "underground chemist" Owsley Stanley provided huge amounts of LSD he had specially produced for the event.
The "Be-In" took its name from a chance remark about the many sit-ins, starting with the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in in 1960 in Greenboro, North Carolina, to protest (and eventually to end) that company's policy of segregation, and teach-ins such as ones organized by the Students for a Democratic Society, formed by the youth branch of a socialist organization descended from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society of 1905. Within a year, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In was on NBC every week.