Bill Wheeler and Lou Gottlieb established communes in west Sonoma County in 1967 during the Summer of Love fifty years ago. Lou’s Morning Star Ranch was west of Sebastopol while Wheeler Ranch was on Coleman Valley Road west of Occidental. The land set people free of convention, government and uptight parents. Abodes consisted of everything from earthen domes to tree houses to a mattress under the stars. There was no electricity while showers were found under a garden hose or inside a sweat house. The preferred dress code was au naturel, weather permitting.
Music was always in the air with hippies breaking into song without provocation or reason. A rhythm section would soon appear, kids of all ages banging on inverted cans or upturned oatmeal boxes. Celebrated musicians would also lend their melodic muses to the festivities. The Steve Miller Band, The Grateful Dead, The Limeliters (of which Lou Gottlieb was an original member), Moby Grape, Jimi Hendrix and others would show up announced.
Communes of the Sixties:
These communes of the sixties beckoned seers and scholars, builders and gardeners, soldiers and survivors, hippies and trolls, and a cowboy or two. No one was turned away and everyone coexisted on the barter system. Skill sets were freely offered in an anarchist atmosphere with no hierarchy.
Nirvana would soon be invaded by outside forces. Morningstar and Wheeler ranches eventually succumbed to the threats of a conservative establishment. Court cases evolved around issues such as increased traffic, noise pollution, easement transgressions, health code violations, illegal drug use and teen runaways. Both Bill and Lou tried to evade the long arm of the law by willing their lands to God. After all, who ever heard of God committing violations against mankind, or against any other species for that matter. As a bonus, God would not be required to pay property taxes. The 9th Circuit Court, however, stated that “God had no property rights in California”. The bulldozers came in 1973 and so ended the great experiment in “freedom”.