Hippie hippie shake
Celebrate 50 years of the Summer of Love in San Francisco
When a kid in a tie-dyed Grateful Dead T-shirt hits you up for change on San Francisco’s Haight Street, don’t be annoyed. He’s only doing his part to keep the spirit of the 1967 Summer of Love alive, a half-century on.
Despite the arrival of boutiques selling $US840 ($1120) sneakers and $US165 hoodies, and the slow fade of almost every shop that lined the street in the 1960s, the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood remains evocatively off-kilter. Old Victorian storefronts and homes, some painted extroverted shades such as canary-yellow and indigo, distinguish the district, aka “the Haight” or “the Upper Haight”. And scruffy teens still gravitate to the area, asking for change, whether it’s the monetary or societal kind.
Unfurling from the eastern border of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Haight was the epicentre of America’s 1960s counterculture movement. “The Haight-Ashbury was the product of teen rebellion against 1950s regimentation and the Vietnam war,” says a guide for the local Flower Power Walking Tour who goes by the name Stannous Flouride. “The anarchic aspect was seen as a threat against the establishment but ultimately had a profound influence on American culture.” Cheap rent drew the first wave of bohemians in the early 1960s. Legions followed, cresting in 1967 when 100,000 students, musicians and others flocked to San Francisco for a summer of drug-enhanced communing and revelry that horrified parents. This year, to mark the anniversary, events from concerts to art exhibits are being staged throughout the Bay Area. You can take an organised walking tour or go it alone. Here, a self-guided stroll through the hippie era’s heyday.
VICTORIANS THAT RULE: Free love reigned messily during the Summer of Love, mostly in neglected Victorian houses that had become overcrowded, affordable communes. Today many of these “painted ladies” have been renovated and sell for more than $US2 million each, with hippies replaced by well-paid techies. Visitors can admire hundreds of elegant, century-old Victorians on a nineblock stroll. Start at the famed corner of Haight and Ashbury, walk up Ashbury to Frederick (passing Janis Joplin’s house at 635 Ashbury and the Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury). It was there that police arrested two Dead musicians and several women living with the band in a drug bust in October, 1967. Next, turn right on Frederick to Clayton, right on Clayton to Page, right on Page to Ashbury, then right on Ashbury to Haight. HIGH JINKS: The Haight’s abundant marijuana, LSD and other psychedelics were catnip to thousands of teen runaways. These drugs offered routes to new states of consciousness, but also sent dozens of flower children directly to the hospital each week. Supplying paraphernalia were so-called head shops, once pervasive on the street, peddling rolling papers and hookahs, among other accessories. The six in business today include Pipe Dreams at 1376 Haight, which opened in 1968, and Ashbury Tobacco Centre at 1524 Haight, where Jimi Hendrix once lived on the upper level.
ROCK QUARRY: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Dead and Jefferson Airplane all lived in the Haight, and performed in and around the neighbourhood. Hit songs of 1967 included Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, San Franciscan Nights (inspired by a night Eric Burdon spent with Joplin) and the blissed-out ballad San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). Want to reacquaint yourself with the roots of psychedelic and acid rock? Pop inside cavernous Amoeba Music at 1855 Haight, a former bowling alley that carries used CDs, along with endless rows of records and rock-history books and posters. An exhibit at the San Francisco City Hall, until June 23, displays dozens of rocker photos taken in 1967 by late photographer Jim Marshall.
GREEN ACRES: In 1967, hippies escaped the district’s crushing crowds by decamping to the large city parks that border the Haight on three sides: Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle and Buena Vista Park. They flooded into these green spaces to heed counterculture icon Timothy Leary’s call to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” A favourite place to congregate was Hippie Hill, a grassy slope in Golden Gate Park. George Harrison even dropped by once and sang a few songs. Enter the park at Haight and Stanyan, take the path that angles right past the stop light until Hippie Hill is visible on your right. From its apex you can see the old carousel at one of America’s oldest public playgrounds (1887) and the eucalyptuses that blanket Mount Sutro. PSYCHEDELIC RELICS: Visual artists also gravitated to the Haight, designing concert posters that defined a trippy new aesthetic; typography endured distortions, lines swirled, colours skewed fluorescent. To further radicalise these concerts, Haight artists pioneered the multimedia light show, which combined ultraviolet lights, strobes and mind-bending slideshows. At the de Young Museum, a 10-minute walk from Haight Street, in Golden Gate Park, stop in for The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll, an exhibit running until August 20. On view are concert posters, hippie fashion, historic photos, films and interactive music-and-light shows, 300 works in all.
ON THE FRINGE: Along with long hair on both sexes (blurring the gender divide to the establishment’s distress), 1967 fashions included metres of fringe, headbands, love beads, and novel and exotic uses of leather, denim, crochet and embroidery. All were sold at Haight Street shops and still are today in eight vintage emporiums. Love On Haight at 1400 Haight, the most colourful, carries only locally produced tie-dye. For more glamorous throwbacks, like Nehru jackets and bell-bottom jumpsuits, check out Piedmont Boutique at 1452 Haight.
EASTERN PARADE: Hippies were early and ardent Western adopters of Asian traditions, from acupuncture to yoga, as well as the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism and Hare Krishna. Of five Haight Street shops that sell Asian objects such as healing crystals, prayer flags, Buddhas and Tibetan singing bowls, The Love Of Ganesha at 1573 Haight is the largest and most inviting. You enter through a veil of hanging scarfs and a haze of incense, and in the back, you can plop on to pillows in the no-mobilephones-allowed tent for a quick self-led meditation session, perhaps to ruminate on the Love Generation that once thrived on a street called Haight.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Haight Ashbury neighborhood, top and top right; viewing exhibits at the Summer of Love Experience at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco, above; Candace Kling Minidress (c 1968),