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The Hippie Epicenter

I stood at the corner of Waller and Stanyan Streets with military precision — I am, after all, a veteran Navy wife of fifteen years — and waited to take the Flower Power Hippie Tour in San Francisco.

Ten minutes later, a guide raced to the opposite street corner, screaming in a New Yorker accent: “What are ya doing ova’ there?”

Izu, our guide, had been looking all over for us and, by the way, she’d stepped in doggie poop and had to go back to change before she arrived. Her tennis shoes sparkled with orange glitter scales. She wore a velvet coat on this typically foggy day and her dark glasses kept the white glare at bay.

Izu immediately explained that she was originally from Yonkers. A straight-laced girl, her hippie parents worried that her straight A’s and shy demeanor wouldn’t bode well for her future, so when Izu was fourteen they took her to the 1967 summer of love. In a twist of fate – and to her parents fright – she loved the Grateful Dead and by seventeen Izu moved to the Haight and Ashbury where she has lived ever since.

She was friends with Jerry Garcia until his death and she still knows one of the girls who dated Jimmy Hendrix. Izu is a Haight & Ashbury original with long flowing black hair with grey roots. She’s also very kind. She points across the street to the entrance of Golden Gate Park where the Human Be-In took place in 1967. Allen Ginsberg read his poetry and 200,000 hippies came to participate in a grand party. Today, a circle of drummers with debris in their hair sit underneath a tree.

Izu explains that before the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 Haight & Ashbury was farmland. Then, a few wealthy natives built summer homes here and the area quickly filled with Victorians. These houses are expensive now, rents running upwards of $3,000 per month for a top level flat, whereas during the ‘60s a shared space could cost $3.50 per month–and food would be included.

Down the street from Golden Gate Park, Izu stops at a fire house where she takes out a photo and explains that the Haight and Ashbury fire department still uses the Grateful Dead logo on its driver’s side. A little past here is where the Hari Krishna hub stood for a time, now called the Mystic Spot with artwork in the windows.

Izu often has to stop talking to let the noise of public buses pass that tout signs announcing BiodieselZero EmissionsHydro-Electric, and Love-evolution.

The Dark Side

We pass Cole Street where Izu points out the Charles Mansion apartment. “People are always coming here to talk about the dark side of the hippies,” Izu says. Then she says we won’t directly pass because the lady who lives inside gives people the finger. “She’s not happy about the Victorian’s history,” Izu explains.

There’s an additional dark side to the Haight and Ashbury, which is LSD. Created by a Swiss doctor in the 1940’s to help women in labor and those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the American government got hold of it and Stanford Professor Dr. Jolly came right here to trick kids into eating LSD laced licorice. Then, he observed them.

The Diggers

From Waller Street we turn onto Belvedere Street and see a mural with pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. This house burned down in the 1906 San Francisco fire and then was rebuilt by Julia Morgan, the architect of Hearst Castle. By the 1960’s, the Diggers lived here. Their vision was to feed and clothe everyone, so they set up a homeless shelter. They also spread the vision that people live in communes, using barter rather than money. Izu remembers a time when the Haight was filled with this kind of spirit. Recently, however, the local government shut down the homeless shelter and food bank.

The Elite on Ashbury Street

From there, we walk to the cross street of Ashbury and see the houses of the sixties elite. The Grateful Dead lived in a a purple Victorian marked 710. Across from them, at number 719, more than thirty Hell’s Angels lived together. Down the hill  at 635, a pink house is where Janis Joplin stayed. Close by, you can also see a mural of Jimmy Hendrix. That house used to be a shelter for draft dodgers.

Power to the People Shopping

Once we reach Haight Street proper, the clutch of businesses range from vintage clothing stores, tattoo & piercing shops, to used record stores that show how this district might not want to let go. The Ben and Jerry’s sign reads: Peace, Love, and Ice Cream. There’s a Power of the People café and the Tibetan Gift Corner, which hearkens back to the hippie interest in human rights and eastern philosophies.

At the Anarchist Bookstore that sells books by Philip Dick and Peter Kropotkin, the sign reminds patrons: “We are all volunteers. That means we don’t get paid to work here. Please don’t steal! Thanks!” Open since 1976 there’s no boss and about seven people make decisions by consensus. They buy their books from several presses, giving away their profits to organizations who ask them for money.

Some things about the Haight still, however, change. After 31 years in business, the co-op movie theater Red Vic Movie House, known for its alternative movies, shut its doors in 2011. The free medical clinic, however, still takes patients just as it did during the sixties.

The Psychedelic Museum

The last stop on Izu’s route is the Psychedelic Museum. A house that once served as a Bed & Breakfast, Izu’s West Coast “Mommy” as she calls the lady who answers the door in her walker, is tired now and can’t keep it up. Her living room has been converted into a museum filled with memorabilia, including a Ken Kensey’s Magic Bus poster and issues of Adam Cohen’s underground magazine Oracle.

Does Anybody Care?

At the end, Izu gives everyone a hug and lets us pet her little dog. She also wonders outloud why people don’t care anymore. She wants the heyday of protesting and free food to come back. Why aren’t people here actively protesting the on-going wars?

Nevertheless, with a free medical clinic, a Goodwill store, a Red Victorian which holds “peaceful world conversations,” and Izu herself giving these tours, people along this street are certainly showing that they care. It just happens to look a little different from the way it did during the sixties.

Thanks Izu for your warmth, your wit, and your fond memories!


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