The Haight Ashbury in the sixties was THE playland for the insane and want-to-be’s. Nothing wrong with that. We had plenty of guidance, all done to the beat of rock ‘n’ roll. Jefferson Airplane lived at 2400 Fulton while the Dead were just five blocks away at 710 Ashbury. If that wasn’t enough, other neighbors included Janis & Big Brother, who were in separate quarters along Oak Street in the Panhandle. Peter Coyote (later known for his films) helped to establish the Diggers, a group of anarchists with a wild hair up their wazoo. While researching for my next crime novel, Don’t Stop the Music, I found out that they believed in a society without the interference of government. A system of bartering took hold in the Haight where food, clothing, housing, medical needs, music and even advise were freely distributed.
Haight Ashbury: A brief history
Haight Ashbury during the late sixties saw the introduction of the Free Store at 1090 Cole Street where you could find bell bottoms, beads, eight track tapes, patchouli oil, or a red ribbon for your hair…at no charge. The Free Clinic at 409 Clayton, on the corner of Haight, was run by Dr. Smith from UCSF. No fee for the treatment or the sideshow. On a bad trip, patients tried to throw themselves out the lobby window or a couple could be seen locked together in love (penis captivus). The Hells Angels would direct the homeless to The Switchboard at 1830 Fell where operators would find them shelter in one of the communal Victorians. The leather shop at Xanadu, the I/Thou Coffee Shop, the Psychedelic Shop and the Pacific Ocean Trading Company were just some of the other local hangouts. The Straight Theater’s house band was Big Brother, but all the greats played there. Out on the street and in the park, the music flowed free and easy.
But the dream would fade quickly. One hundred thousand drifters (midwest teens, Vietnam Vets, college kids, and curiosity seekers) would invade the Haight during the Summer of Love in 1967, overwhelming the neighborhood’s resources. The district was ravaged by pimps, drug dealers and the greedy. By the fall this oasis had become a wasteland, ruled by opportunists. Love was all there was until there wasn’t any. Until next time keep the peace, my friend.