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Still loving the Haight

Hippie culture may have grown up a bit, but it's alive and well in San Francisco.

By Janet Keeler, Times Food and Travel Editor
Published July 22, 2007


SAN FRANCISCO - We've come to ground zero of the '60s hippie movement to check out the scene.

The Victorian apartment house where Janis Joplin flopped. Cool.

The stairs where the Grateful Dead lounged. The Hell's Angels crash pad across the street. Dig it.

The wide swath of green in Golden Gate Park where the "Human Be-In" launched the tie-dye culture into the popular consciousness and started the migration of thousands of free spirits and freeloaders to San Francisco. Right on.

You can see it on your own, but guide Izu Interlandi of the Flower Power Walking Tour knows the history firsthand. In 1967, her parents brought her to San Francisco from New York during the Summer of Love to knock the conservative out of her. She was 14 then and moved permanently to Haight-Ashbury in 1971.

For more than two hours, Interlandi leads the curious on a 12-block walk, illuminating the counterculture history that divided the country but galvanized the nation's youth. Aging flower children will be happy to note that Haight-Ashbury still embraces the 1960s. The city fire trucks here have the Grateful Dead skeleton skull symbol emblazoned on them.

The '60s youthquake rumbled in many big cities across the country, fueled by opposition to the Vietnam War and the desire to break free of the ducktail, penny loafer era. But it is San Francisco and specifically the neighborhood where Haight and Ashbury streets intersect that are the icons of the Summer of Love. This year is the 40th anniversary of the hippie heyday and, for a generation that hoped to die before it got old, it's another reminder that all things do pass.

Concerts and art exhibitions are marking the anniversary. Whoever is left from the Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Jefferson Airplane, among others, will perform at a two-day concert next weekend on the same stage that hosted the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

Rolling Stone magazine, which was born in 1967 in San Francisco, devoted its July 12 issue to the history and music of the era.

In the Haight, as the area is more commonly called, murals with exaggerated images of Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison may evoke acid trips to the initiated or, perhaps, Rorschach inkblot tests to those who aren't.

Psychedelic ephemera can be had in any number of stores, many of which reek with incense and occasional whiffs of patchouli oil. Positively Haight Street 1400 Haight St. is a whirling swirl of T-shirts, sandals and beads and your best source for Grateful Dead anything.

Amoeba Music operates a 24,000-square-foot store and often features live shows at the place where Haight Street touches the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park. Though not a fixture from the '60s, Amoeba embodies the spirit of the Woodstock generation and is one of the nation's largest independent record stores, with just three locations. It stocks more than 100,000 new and used records. Buy a copy of Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow or Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, just two of many classic LPs from 1967.

Magnolia Pub & Brewery (1398 Haight St.) is worth a stop for food and another bite of hippie history. This was the spot where stripper Magnolia Thunderpussy operated her erotic bakery. Some say she was the inspiration for the Grateful Dead's Sugar Magnolia.

You'll get more than organic granola here. The menu is far-ranging, with nods to local ingredients and big-city tastes. We're guessing the original Magnolia didn't serve blueberry panna cotta and Napa Valley port. Alice B. Toklas brownies, maybe.

The '60s may be way back in the day to the skateboard rockers who prowl the Haight in packs today, but the cultural legacy is undeniable. Without Jimi Hendrix, there would be no Lenny Kravitz and Prince. Joss Stone owes her vibe to Janis Joplin, and Phish can thank the Grateful Dead for perfecting the endless jam.

Long cotton granny dresses crowd racks at Target. Big sunglasses and hobo bags are back in style. They call it boho chic, but it's hippie all the way. The environmental movement got a boost from hippies who saw the world coming together by making love, not war. The vision, though, was sometimes viewed through purple haze.

Funky free radicals still stalk the Haight, which has held off the corporate creep that has homogenized so many city blocks. No Starbucks or Panera. A Gap opened but closed. There's a discreet McDonald's near the park, and Ben & Jerry's sells Cherry Garcia and Phish Food at the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Speaking of that cosmic intersection, the city has placed the street signs so high that would-be thieves need a ladder to pluck them as souvenirs.

These days, any scruffy kid searching for a place to crash and freak out his folks might as well keep looking. Many who make the pilgrimage end up on the streets. The run-down Victorian homes that were cheap havens for musicians and teenage squatters have been transformed into gorgeous painted ladies. The dot-com wizards of the 1990s saw to that.

The formerly beat-up house at 710 Ashbury St., where the Grateful Dead famously posed and romped on dilapidated steps, recently sold for more than $2-million and is a private residence.

"The owners had to install a gate on the front steps," Interlandi says. "There were too many Deadheads who wanted their pictures taken on them."

The lure of a utopian society with a bonus of inexpensive communal living and mind-expanding drugs lured tens of thousands to Haight-Ashbury in the summer of 1967. But excess - of people, drugs and violence - killed the movement. In October of that year, a mock funeral for the hippie was staged here. And now, people who were there say that the real scene began in 1965 and was waning by the time of the Human Be-In.

But the procession hardly shut down hippieland. Haight-Ashbury is still groovy after all these years.

Times photographer Scott Keeler contributed to this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at (727) 893-8586 or jkeeler@sptimes.com

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Celebrating the '60s

- The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour covers 12 blocks of hippie history in about 2 1/2 hours. The terrain is flat, so the walk is easy. Tours are at 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. Fridays. Cost is $20 per person. Reservations required. Call (415) 863-1621.

- A free concert commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 2 at Speedway Meadows in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Some of the musicians scheduled to perform are Ray Manzarek (the Doors), Country Joe McDonald, Canned Heat and New Riders of the Purple Sage. For information, go to www.2b1records.com/summeroflove40th.

- "A Culture of Discontent: Steinbeck and the '60s" is a four-day festival of film, music and talks exploring the era through John Steinbeck's work. The Aug. 2-5 event is at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif. Also on display are psychedelic rock posters from the era. For information, go to www.steinbeck.org or call (831) 796-3833.

- New York's Whitney Museum of American Art features "The Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era," a show of concert posters from the Fillmore East in New York and the Fillmore West in San Francisco. For information, go to www.whitney.org or call toll-free 1-800-944-8639.

- The Age of Aquarius, and its decline, is the subject of the movie Across the Universe, directed by Julie Taymor, a glossy rock musical set to a medley of Beatles tunes and scheduled for release in late September.